Joe Stevenson had to commute a bit farther this time, but with a win, his journey to the top of his profession won’t be nearly as long as it was the first time.
The lightweight contender recently moved from Las Vegas back to his native Victorville, Calif., but he will be back in town tonight to fight Kenny Florian on the Ultimate Fighting Championship card at the MGM Grand Garden.
"Vegas was an awesome opportunity for me, and it opened so many doors," Stevenson said. "But as a father and a husband, my hometown was the right place for me."
Stevenson, who still owns a house in southwest Las Vegas that his sister now lives in, can set himself up for another shot at the lightweight title with a victory over Florian.
The first time he fought for the title, things didn’t go so well.
Stevenson was bloodied badly in the first round of his January bout with BJ Penn before losing by submission in the second round. But Stevenson, a 26-year-old father of four boys, rebounded from the disappointing loss with a submission victory over Gleison Tibau in July.
He said having one shot has made him want the title even more.
"You know what it tastes like. Once you have a taste of something, you want to eat it and you want to finish it," Stevenson said.
Even though he’s still fairly young, Stevenson’s path to becoming a contender was a circuitous one.
He had his first professional fight at age 16 and had fought seven times before he graduated high school in 2000. He had 29 bouts behind him when he got his big break, a spot on the second season of the UFC’s reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter."
Stevenson went on to win the show and posted a 5-1 record in the UFC before finally getting the chance to face Penn.
He could be back in that position with a win over Florian, a jiu-jistu black belt who is on a five-fight winning streak after losing to then-lightweight champion Sean Sherk.
Stevenson thinks he has some momentum of his own coming into the fight, after being presented with his black belt last week.
"One of the best feelings I’ve ever had," he said.
Stevenson also called it "an honor" to fight on the same card as the much-hyped heavyweight title fight between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar.
As for the main event, Stevenson thinks the 45-year-old Couture’s intelligence and experience could be enough to offset the obvious advantages the 31-year-old Lesnar possesses in size, speed and youthfulness.
"Age is a factor in everything, but if you’re smart enough to understand that you have to take your training in a different direction, it can be much less of a factor," Stevenson said. "Randy’s the type of person that’s already thought about all that."
Lesnar, who has been bet up to the role of favorite, did his best to deflect the pressure.
"I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m not the champion," he said Wednesday, before pausing to add the most pointed part of his statement. "Yet."
The bout headlines a nine-fight card at the MGM Grand, scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m.
The main card also features a middleweight bout between Demian Maia and Nate Quarry and Gabriel Gonzaga taking on newcomer Josh Hendricks in a heavyweight clash.
The live pay-per-view broadcast will begin at 7.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@ reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.ON THE WEB Video of Couture workout RELATED STORYED GRANEY: Couture back where he belongs FIGHT NIGHT UFC 91 • WHEN: 5:15 p.m. today; pay-per-view broadcast begins at 7 • WHERE: MGM Grand Garden • MAIN EVENT: UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar • TV: iN DEMAND (Cox Digital 501)