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5 Oz. Exclusive: Joe Stevenson talks about going pro at 16, whether feud with Guillard was contrived, if Penn is truly top five, and more in new interview

On January 19 in New Castle, England, Joe Stevenson is set to square off against B.J. Penn for the vacant UFC lightweight title at UFC 80. Stevenson was in the midst of the final stages of training for the fight vs. Penn when we caught up with him for an interview.

For Stevenson, this is an incredibly busy time, as in addition to training, he has been making himself available to the media for interviews. In fact, Stevenson revealed the other day on his website, Joe, that he did five interviews in one day on top of his regular training schedule. So it was little surprise when he agreed to speak with that he would need to do the interview 6 a.m. PT, which wasn’t a problem for us, considering we’re on the east coast.

Here’s a transcript of our early morning conversation with Stevenson.

Sam Caplan: You’re in the process of wrapping up your training right now. When do you leave for the UK?

Joe Stevenson: I plan to leave when the UFC and all the other guys are going, and I think everyone is leaving Sunday or Monday.

Sam Caplan: It’s been said you started competing in pro MMA fights at the age of 16, is that true?

Joe Stevenson: That is completely true.

Sam Caplan: What age did you start training?

Joe Stevenson: I started wrestling when I was eleven and I started jiu-jitsu when I was 13.

Sam Caplan: The story I’ve heard is that you received your parents consent and fought on reservations. Is that correct?

Joe Stevenson: That is correct.

Sam Caplan: When you asked your parents if you could fight, what was their initial reaction?

Joe Stevenson: Oddly, it was “yeah.” It was weird too because they wouldn’t let us play football.

Sam Caplan: But when you asked them if you could fight at such a young age, how did the whole conversation go down? Did it take a lot of convincing?

Joe Stevenson: Well, we trusted my coach at the time and we felt that we wouldn’t get too mis-matched. And I was pretty good at jiu-jitsu and they said “Go ahead and do it. Give it your all.”

Sam Caplan: Looking back do you feel they made the right decision to allow you to fight?

Joe Stevenson: I think I should have focused a little more on my wrestling.

Sam Caplan: When asked by an interview from whether you had any plans for your son to follow in your footsteps, you pretty much ruled it out and said he was going to take a different career path than you. What is about MMA as a profession that makes you not want your children to pursue it?

Joe Stevenson: It’s a difficult life. You’re away from your family a lot. It takes away from your family time and to me, that’s the most precious thing you can have.

Sam Caplan: You’re only 24 but you already have 35 pro fights to your credit and have been in the game for awhile. You mentioned in the interview that you’d like to coach high school wrestling one day after you retire. How long do you intend to fight?

Joe Stevenson: For as long as my body permits. You know, ten years in this game starts to wear on you. But as long as you train correctly with the right training partners and don’t get hurt or injured, you can fight for an extended period.

Sam Caplan: At one point you and Melvin Guillard had a little war of words before your fight against each other. I read a recent interview with Melvin Guillard on the Baltimore Sun website where he indicated the feud was contrived. His quote was:

“When I have to fight, bro, it’s a business. Me and Joe [Stevenson] are cool. That was some made-up beef to get a little tension going.”

Joe Stevenson: I didn’t know it was made up. I took it personally. It was (Guillard’s comments) probably one of the worst things you could do to someone, because it makes me want to go out there and be willing to die. But it’s squashed now.

Sam Caplan: A lot of people, such as me, have B.J. Penn listed as a top five lightweight. Some people feel that’s overrating him because he hasn’t competed much at 155 lbs. lately. Do you feel he should be top five right now?

Joe Stevenson: He’s a top five almost anywhere, man. I definitely think he’s a top five lightweight.

Sam Caplan: A lot of people are also predicting him to win your upcoming fight on the 19th. Do you feel you’re being overlooked?

Joe Stevenson: No, they are just asking the wrong people. If you call my mom, she’ll tell you I’m going to win hands down.

Sam Caplan: I know you’re sick of being asked about Sean Sherk but I still have to ask. B.J. has been very outspoken against Sherk and his positive test result. At one point, he said he wouldn’t even fight Sherk but he later backed off that statement. Do you feel B.J. is being too critical?

Joe Stevenson: Everyone is free to voice their opinion, so you can’t really comment on someone else’s opinion; just give your own. As far as Sherk goes, stuff happens in life. Sometimes it’s your fault and sometimes it’s not, and I’m not going to judge anyone.

Sam Caplan: You train out of Marc Laimon’s Cobra Kai school in Vegas. Frank Mir trains there often as well. How do you think Frank will do vs. Brock Lesnar on February 2?

Joe Stevenson: I think he has a very good chance of winning that fight. I’m very excited with anticipation.

Sam Caplan: Can you talk about the role sponsors play in the career of a fighter and just how essential they are?

Joe Stevenson: Sponsors allow you not to have to reach into your life savings for a camp like this where you have to go away for nine weeks and train. And sponsors are who pay the bills and who allow you to actually take care of your family. My sponsors have been generous enough to front me money up front so I can prepare. People like Sprawl, Warrior Wear, and MMA Warehouse, they’re just awesome people. We have more than just a business relationship, we’re actually friends.

Sam Caplan: Would it be possible for you to train full-time if you didn’t have sponsors?

Joe Stevenson: (Laughs) I doubt that. I doubt I would be able to train full-time without the sponsors.