Saturday, June 20, 2009 | midnight
If You Go
- What: "TUF" No. 9: Team U.S. vs. Team U.K.
- When: Saturday, June 20 (first bout 3:45 p.m. PT, main card 6 p.m.)
- Where: The Pearl at the Palms
- Tickets: $154-$354 ticketmaster or the Pearl box office
- TV: Spike TV (Cox Cable Ch. 29) 9 p.m. ET/PT
- Betting Lines: Guida +220, Sanchez -280; Stevenson +110, Diaz -140 (odds subject to change)
With four children and a nickname like “Daddy,” obviously Joe Stevenson’s family is of the utmost importance to him.
But being a professional fighter sometimes requires significant sacrifices. That’s why for the last eight weeks, the Victorville, Calif.-based Stevenson has called Albuquerque, N.M., home.
“I have my whole concentration on this fight with Nate (Diaz),” said Stevenson, who heads into tonight’s “The Ultimate Fighter” finale having lost three of his last four bouts.
“It hurts to be away from them, but they all understand the situation. And they’re proud of the way I’ve dedicated myself to this one.”
Stevenson’s setbacks have occurred against some of the best fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division. He lost to both B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian, who will be fighting each other for the 155-pound title in August.
But it was the 27-year-old’s disappointing performance in his last loss, a three-round unanimous decision setback to Diego Sanchez at UFC 95 in February in London, that presented the pressing need for change.
“If you get knocked out or get submitted, then the problem is pretty clear,” said Stevenson, who sports a 34-10 career mixed martial arts record.
“But if you lose a decision and a close decision at that, then there’s something that could be changed and you got to find out what that is.”
That’s why the fighter known for his takedowns and submissions enlisted the help of one of the sport’s best trainers, in Greg Jackson.
“I’m so excited. Just the positive energy of Greg and all my teammates in New Mexico was just unbelievable,” said Stevenson, who connected with Jackson through the help of friend and Jackson’s pupil Rashad Evans. “They’ve really worked me hard and helped me to remember and retool the unique abilities I possess.”
But Stevenson is quick to admit he has to be cautious of the 24-year-old Diaz’ dangerous arsenal.
“He’s a guy who is not dangerous some of the time, but a guy who is dangerous all of the time,” Stevenson said of Diaz, the 'TUF' season No. 5 winner who had won five matches in a row before suffering a split decision setback to Clay Guida at UFC 94 in January.
“I can’t afford to take him lightly in any matter. I got to beat him to the punch, stay out of his submissions and force my own will on him in certain areas.”
In doing that, Stevenson, the winner of 'TUF’s' second season, will ensure he’s still a relevant commodity in a stacked lightweight division.
“I’ve never been on the undercard and I don’t care to be. I’m going to do everything I can to prove that’s not where I belong after this fight,” Stevenson said.
And just in case Stevenson needed any more motivation, a quick victory would mean an even faster time up to his family’s room at the Palms to be reunited with his wife, Maia, and children.
“My wife and all my kids will be in Vegas, but I told my wife that I don’t want her to bring them to weigh-ins and I don’t want to see anybody until right after my fight,” Stevenson said. “Then I won’t let them out of my sight.”
The Pearl is the Palms premier concert venue, hosting some of the most legendary and popular names in entertainment.
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.