“May see thee now, though late, Redeem thy name, And glorify what else is damn’d to fame” Richard Savage
By: Jonathan M. King The Clinch Report
Photos By: John Walsh The Clinch Report
Edited By: Bob Fisher Pugilpix
Perspective can bring clarity. Unfortunately there is no time line for understanding. For some it comes early, for others it may never come at all. For Joe ‘Daddy’ Stevenson, perspective has been quite elusive. As a young fighter Stevenson made his pro debut in 1999 at the tender age of 16, now nearly 50 fights later, that perspective has arrived.
Long after his last fight, Stevenson found himself on the mat at his gym, working with his younger fighters. He told them he wanted them all to define their goals as fighters clearly. He wanted to know what each of his fighters expected of themselves, so he, the coach, could do his best to make those expectations come true. Everything was going according to plan until one of Stevenson’s young proteges, Jamal Pogues, asked, “What about you coach?”
The seemingly innocent question may have been considered a wise-ass response, but instead the question stabbed its way through 17 years of fighting and attacked a soft spot inside of Stevenson that he himself had never addressed! “I thought about his question for quite some time.” Stevenson said, with the answer eluding him at every turn.
As a coach, Stevenson has many young students who count on his experience and knowledge to light the dark passage that is a fight career. During the ‘goal definition’ process, Stevenson realized he himself had never completed the exercise. “I’ve had a lot of great coaches, but I’ve never had someone in my ear outside of the cage” Stevenson said. Although he had many coaches that focused on technique, Stevenson didn’t have a coach to lean on during the difficult times away from the cage.
As young wrestler, Stevenson’s stock skyrocketed with his success. At 16 years old he was already training with the likes of Oleg Taktarov, Bas Rutten, Ted Williams, and Genki Sudo. All of whom, were successful mixed martial artists at the time. For Stevenson, this opportunity was all he had. “Wrestling was the only thing I was ever good at!” Stevenson said. After working with these legends, fighting seemed to be the next logical step. His pro debut came against Joe Camacho (rest in peace) one month before his 17th birthday.
His career was off to a terrific start, and after a successful stint with the King of The Cage, Stevenson moved to Las Vegas to pursue his black belt in jiujitsu. During this time, Stevenson pretty much retired from fighting. Instead he focused on coaching, training and helping others prepare for fights. Things stayed the same until UFC matchmaker Joe Silva came into the gym to watch Stevenson train. After watching, Silva insisted that Stevenson join season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter. Just one year earlier this show launched the sport of mixed martial arts into the main stream. With the epic bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fresh on his mind, Stevenson leapt.
Opportunity once again knocked, and Stevenson was ready to answer, but still he was going through the motions. Once he was isolated inside the TUF house, the demons that haunt so many came knocking. “I was very self conscious about my drinking, thats why if you re-watch the show I always had a red cup!” Stevenson said. “I didn’t want my kids or any kids to see me drinking!” So, he tried to keep the demons hidden, away from view.
Still, Stevenson thrived professionally, winning season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter. Inside the cage, Stevenson was becoming one of the most feared men in the lightweight division. However outside of the cage, and away from the lights, Stevenson’s life was beginning to unravel. Now the centerpiece in the crowd, Stevenson never felt more isolated.
Celebrity can bring with it a loneliness. For Stevenson, he looked for the answer in the bottom of a bottle, or three. “I was a undefeated as a drinker!” Stevenson said. Depending on how you look at the situation, one could certainly agree or disagree depending on what you consider defeated. “The day after the Ultimate Fighter Finale, the day after the biggest night of my life, I was given my first DUI.” Stevenson said. Apparently the alcohol from the celebration had not found its way out his body, and on his way back home, the TUF season 2 winner found himself in hand cuffs.
As a fighter, Stevenson could always rely on his god given talent. So the dance with demons continued between fights, and even sometimes during the fights. At the age 20 Stevenson’s marriage fell apart. And Stevenson responded by healing the only way he knew how, in the gym by day and the bar by night.
Still, inside the UFC cage the wins kept coming! After a self imposed hiatus from drinking, Stevenson went on a tear, winning four fights in a row, earning him a shot at the vacant lightweight title against the future legend B.J. Penn. A fight that still evokes a very deep emotion from Stevenson. “B.J. and I were actually friends.” Stevenson said. “I can remember hanging out with him in a bar one night, and he came over and said ‘You now one day we are gonna fight bro, good knows good!'”, and although that meeting ended in celebration, their next meeting was not so easy.
Penn won their fight decisively in what would be remembered as one of the bloodiest fights in UFC history. “I remember seeing my blood shoot out of my head in a stream that was about five feet long”, Stevenson said. According to a ringside doctor the gash on his head caused him to lose over 500 ccs of blood. You would think a loss like that would be devastating, and to some extent it was, but after all, Stevenson had never planned on even getting there. Up until this point, one of the best fighters in the world still didn’t have a single defined goal. Instead the loss was handled much the way the wins were, with a few pills chased by alcohol.
After that fight, Stevenson returned with an impressive win over Gleison Tibau, but then alternated 2 wins with 2 losses. One of the wins was an impressive domination of current lightweight contender Nate Diaz. Up until this point, Stevenson was always able to maintain two lifestyles. at first he was a fighter who liked to party, but soon he became a partier who moonlit as a fighter. Soon the perennial fight of the night contender now found himself in rather boring fights. An uninspiring decision loss to George Sotiropoulos was followed by 3 more losses, including a KO loss to Mac Danzig, which was the only time Stevenson had ever been knocked out in his career. After his loss to Javier Vasquez, Stevenson was released from the UFC.
Although devastating, the loss was quickly washed away, and soon the mediocrity of everyday life became the daily reminder to what he had pissed away. Stevenson began to realize he had not only lost his job, but he was beginning to loose himself as well. Nearing bottom Stevenson began to look for answers. He found some of those answers in familiar faces that were now anonymous. It was in these meetings that, Stevenson began to discover himself. He found both comfort and solace listening and sharing. He reveled in being an example.
In the gym, Stevenson was quickly becoming known as one of the best young coaches in the sport. His pedigree and wrestling base made him a fountain of knowledge that even the most seasoned of fighters could drink. Rapidly his young stable of fighters began to start making names for themselves. And Stevenson himself was also starting to evolve professionally.
After working on the show ‘Breaking Bad’, Stevenson began his love affair with Hollywood. Soon after he received a phone call from coach Greg Jackson that would change his direction. Jackson had been contacted by the powers that be in Hollywood, who were looking for a fight choreographer for a new show that showcased the world of mixed martial arts.
The show created by Byron Belasco starred Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas, Jonathan Tucker, Matt Lauria, Mac Brandt, Paul Hauser, Natalie Martinez and Nikki Going as a dysfunctional fight family native to the Venice Beach area. One of the main problems with shooting a show about MMA, is making it look real. In the past, the sport has not been kind to the translations of MMA incarnations on film, which weighed heavy on Belasco. So they brought in Stevenson to sculpt the cast into fighters, and to add certain level of authenticity that would resonate heavily with mixed martial arts fanatics.
Taking his time, and working from the bottom. Stevenson began to shape these actors. “I only know how to train fighters,” Stevenson said. ” I don’t know how to pretend to fight”. So these actors pretty much went to bootcamp. Their bodies changed, their diets changed, and even their outlook on the sport changed. The show ‘Kingdom’ debuted to raucous reviews, and quickly became a hit. Not only were television audiences impressed, but the MMA community specifically was considerably thrilled. A testament to the actors, and the choreography of Stevenson.
Busy on many fronts, Stevenson found himself torn between coaching and working in Hollywood, living somewhere in the nexus between an old itch returned. Constantly being involved a long forgotten flame began to burn again, and soon ‘The Daddy’ was ready again, to take to cage. Returning to the action for the first time in 3 years, Stevenson took on very tough prospect Dominique Robinson. The fight ended up not going Stevenson’s way (he lost a 5 rd split decision) but his performance was hindered by poor preparation and by an infection that had him on antibiotics the day of the fight. He simply forgotten how much preparation was necessary, and Robinson was more than willing to remind him. Even still the fight could have gone either way.
The loss bothered Stevenson, but his performance is what left a particular bad taste. “I didn’t prepare for the fight properly.” Stevenson said. “Even though mentally I was in the right place, physically I didn’t take enough time to prepare. When you are out of action for 3 years you can’t just jump into a camp and get ready, and I thought I could.” Stevenson said.
For the next few months, Stevenson went back to the usual grind. Alternating between cornering fighters, coaching, and working on set, while maintaining his role as the father of four young boys. However this time he kept his weight down, returned to training, and for the first time in his life Joe Stevenson was doing everything the right way, but he didn’t know where he was heading.
Then came the answer in the form of a question. “What about you coach? What are your goals?”
“I went home after Jamal asked me about my goals, and thought about it.” Stevenson had often looked for answers, and often found them from within, but this time he was at a loss. Was his purpose now to coach, or was his goal now to grow as a coordinator in film industry? The answer once again came back to fighting.
“50 wins” Stevenson said. “My goal is to win 50 fights, then I can move on.” Currently Stevenson would need another 17 victories to accomplish that task (Some websites differ with regard to record). At 34 years old he is still young enough to compete at a very high level, and his pedigree will always translate to the sport. But why would he want too?
The goal although defined, remains obscured by certain mitigating factors. Truth, fear, the past, and even the demons themselves are all part of the motivation. For a fighter of Stevenson’s caliber his last performances can’t be easy to live with, especially since now he thinks he could today, out perform his younger self. ” I’d instigate the 25 year old version of me into a brawl, before I double legged him and pounded him out!” Stevenson confidently claimed. Perhaps that is who he will be facing the rest of the way.
For Stevenson, the goal may have been defined. The 50 win plateau may hopefully end up being the destination. The end may justify his goals, and what Stevenson finds on the road to redemption remains to be seen. However it appears in coming full circle as a person, Joe Stevenson has finally arrived as a fighter.
Notes: Joe Stevenson returns to action July 30 in his hometown of Victorville CA, fighting under the California Fight League promotion. Click the link for ticket information. Joe Stevenson is also set to fight in August under the Tru-Form Entertainment Promotion, it what could be one of the best SoCal fight cards of the year! For information on where to watch the hit television show Kingdom (click the link).