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Stevenson dismisses claim

Life has been a series of crises for Joe Stevenson.

He lost his father, who was bipolar, to a long, painful death from bone marrow cancer.

He had his first child at age 18, when he was making barely $1,000 a month.

He suffered through a bitter divorce while forced to drive seven hours daily to fight for custody of his three children.

Stevenson, 24, has lived the life of a 50-year-old.

“I’ve been through things most people don’t have to go through at this age and a lot of times don’t ever go through,” he said.

So, perhaps not surprisingly, Stevenson didn’t react harshly when he found out that Melvin Guillard, his opponent tonight in the main event of an Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts card in The Pearl at the Palms, accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Guillard accused Stevenson of using human growth hormone in an interview with MMA Web site Sherdog.com.

On Tuesday, the outspoken Guillard had little to say about the charges, noting, “I don’t want to talk about drugs or none of that illegal stuff. I got in a lot of trouble with the UFC.”

Stevenson shrugged it off, even though he conceded he was stunned to hear about the allegations. He was awakened at 6 a.m. and asked to appear on an Internet radio show to respond to Guillard’s charges.

“Melvin is young and he has to try to hate someone to fight them,” Stevenson said. “He’s really that type of person. I think he’s looking for an excuse. He wants to say a million things just to cover all the bases.”

Guillard turned 24 last week, but age and an ability to fight is about all he and Stevenson have in common. Their styles, both in the ring and in their personal lives, are vastly different.

Guillard, who in 2005 was a hero in the aftermath of the devastation in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina, loves to trash-talk and was quick to say he’s better looking than Stevenson, more popular and a better fighter.

Stevenson, nicknamed “Daddy” because of his devotion to his children, speaks barely above a whisper and almost in reverential tones about the sport and his opponents.

UFC president Dana White was none too happy when Guillard popped off about Stevenson, understanding that a slander suit between two of his best fighters wouldn’t do his company any good.

“It was immature and unprofessional,” White said. “He’s that kind of a kid. He’s cocky and a loudmouth who says stupid stuff. Realistically, Joe Stevenson could sue him if he wanted. That’s serious stuff. But I think to Melvin, it’s how he is. He talks to get himself going.”

The fight figures to be the best on a card that will be televised nationally by Spike TV before the debut of the fifth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the network’s highly successful reality series.

Guillard is a devastatingly hard puncher but points out defensively he’s also a former Louisiana state high school champion wrestler.

Stevenson is believed to have the advantage on the ground and in submissions, but White says he can’t match Guillard’s striking ability.

The bout probably will be Stevenson’s last until the fall. He takes the summer off to spend with his children and knows he’ll need to win impressively to put himself in line for a shot at the UFC lightweight title.

White said Stevenson could fight for the title by the end of the year if he wins tonight.

“I apologize to the fans for being away (all summer), but I have to do what I do for my family,” Stevenson said. “But I know how much that makes this fight mean. I have to use my experience and do what I’ve been trained to do.”

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