TORONTO - Jeremy (Lil' Heathen) Stephens didn't expect a police escort before his last UFC fight. Especially when it led to jail.
The 26-year-of lightweight was arrested Oct. 5 in Minneapolis on an outstanding Iowa warrant just hours before he was scheduled to step into the cage against Yves Edwards on a televised card.
Stephens spent 12 days in jail, first in Minneapolis and then Iowa before he made bail. His fate is still before the courts but Stephens gets a second chance in the cage Saturday when he gets another shot at Edwards on a televised card in Seattle.
Stephens faces charges of wilful injury causing serious injury, burglary in the first degree and assault causing bodily injury. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Dec. 13.
Stephens declined to go into specifics on the charges other than to say he is innocent. Postings on his website suggested he had done nothing other than be in the wrong place at the wring time.
"I just want to let my lawyers handle it and keep focused on the fight," he said in an interview.
"That's life," he said of his recent rocky road. "You have to deal with things. It's all about how you react and bounce back."
Stephens, a native of Iowa who now trains in San Diego, says he has worked hard to become a better man.
"I feel like I was your average kid," he said. "I had some troubles growing up but when I fell into MMA, I started changing my whole life around."
That continued as he and his girlfriend had two daughters, who are now one and a half and three and a half.
"I've got to be a leader. I can't be the same old Jeremy Stephens," he said. "I'm a different man than I was a week ago. I'm always trying to change, do better and inspire people. And it starts right here at home.
"Being a leader to my daughters is more important than going out to some club."
His bail, originally US$100,00 cash, was reduced to $20,000 which he was able to make.
While in jail, Stephens said he took part in Bible studies, played handball, and read and prayed until he could get out.
"Everybody was petty cool in there," he said.
UFC president Dana White says he tried to work out a deal with Iowa authorities so Stephens could fight in Minneapolis. That included having two police officers escort him to and from the fight or using a private jet to fly the fighter to Iowa.
"I was willing to do anything and they dragged me out and played games with me all day," he said that night.
"Every time that they would lay out a new deal, I would accept it and they would change it," he added. "They kept trying to make it harder and harder and harder."
White was also irate that the arrest happened on fight day when Stephens had been in town all week.
"Basically what happened is they do not like him in Des Moines, Iowa, where this warrant is from," he concluded.
Said Stephens: "I can't thank Dana White enough for doing that. Checking in on my family. A lot of teammates would call my family and ask if they need anything. It's a blessing to have good guys around you and people that support you."
Stephens, who got the nickname Lil' Heathen from his mother for an early rebellious streak, is known for heavy hands and exciting fights.
He won a knockout for the night bonus in a fight that saw a bloody Justin Buchholz leave the cage looking like someone had taken an axe to his head.
Stephens collected another KO of the night bonus for an uppercut that toppled Rafael Dos Anjos. The UFC replayed the blow eight times that night, with spit flying out of the Brazilian's mouth as he crumpled in slow motion at the fence.
Stephens celebrated the win by running head-first into the fence.
There was another KO bonus for flooring Marcus (The Irish Hand Grenade) Davis and a fight of the night bonus for a win over Canadian Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout.
In Edwards, he faces a veteran who has lost two out of his last three, including a devastating KO at the hands of Stout.
Edwards (41-18-1) was taped up and ready to fight in Minneapolis when he was told his opponent was behind bars. The UFC paid him his appearance fee and promised to give him a new fight as soon as possible.
"It's guys like Yves Edwards that have built this sport to what it is today," said White.
The UFC lived up to that promise by scheduling the 36-year-old Edwards to fight John Cholish on the Seattle card. Stephens, who had stayed in the gym after being released from jail, got his second chance when Cholish dropped out with a groin injury.
Stephens found out Nov. 23, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving. He recalls waking up, having some pie, a hot chocolate and tamales and then, upon heading to the gym that night, learning on Twitter during a stop at a gas station that Cholish had dropped out.
Stephens called his manager and the two started lobbying for the fight. He texted White while his manager worked on matchmaker Joe Silva.
After the workout, Stephens said a prayer and looked at his phone. A message from his manager was waiting. The fight was back on.
Stephens calls it "an honour" to fight Edwards,
"He's a pioneer of the sport," he said. "I actually grew up watching the guy."
"I owe the fans one hell of a fight and I plan on delivering that," he added.
Stephens is 7-7 in the UFC but has lost his last two: by split decision to Anthony (Showtime) Pettis and unanimous decision last time out to Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone.
Against Cerrone in May, he suffered a broken orbital bone in his face in his first round but kept fighting.
"It was painful. I had to dig through it."
"I couldn't see out of my eye," he added. "I had to lie to the doctor because I knew I could have a chance to knock him out if I just landed that shot. But unfortunately it wasn't my night."
In addition to the broken bone, Stephens had a spot in his pupil that looked like "a firework."
"They said they'd never seen anything like that," he said of the doctors.
When his eye didn't heal in a few days, the doctors suggest Stephens might look for another line of work. They also told him he would require surgery on the orbital bone if it didn't heal naturally.
A couple of weeks later, he was given the green light. Training partners like Ross (The Real Deal) Pearson, Justin (The American Kid) Lawrence and Myles (Fury) Jury have since tested his face with their fists.
"Everything feels good," said Stephens.