Written by Ty Reynolds @MMAtylander
It’s been two and a half years since striking ace Akop Stepanyan (22-7-0) fought in North America, but now “Sniper” is ready to return, only this time he has his sights set on competing under the umbrella of the top MMA promotion on the planet.
Riding a nine fight winning streak, with wins over UFC veterans Eddie Yagin and Andre Winner included in that stretch, Stepanyan feels that he is ready to test his skills in the UFC’s Octagon.
“I think I’m ready for UFC! I defeated two veterans of UFC, and without any problems! But if I need to win something, I am ready! I’m sure once I’m in UFC I will show spectacular fights and many will love it,” said Stepanyan. “I think every fighter wants to get into UFC and to fight the best fighters in the world so every fighter wants to join UFC!”
If and when the Russian featherweight standout does sign with the Zuffa owned promotion, it will be the culmination of many years of hard work and testing himself, but it won’t be the first time he has fought in a major North American promotion. Stepanyan competed on Spike TV for Bellator MMA in 2012 and 2013 before returning to his homeland and initiating the long period of success he is currently enjoying.
Unfortunately, Stepanyan’s time in Bellator wasn’t as fruitful as he would’ve hoped, as he was left with a 1-4 record while competing for the company. Even though all of his losses in Bellator came against topnotch competition, Stepanyan lays the blame at his own feet and feels he has now corrected what was holding him back during his time there.
“In Bellator I had problems with the coaching staff, and with psychology! I beat all the fighters, but out of stupidity or failure, I gave them the victory,” explained Stepanyan before adding “After those defeats, I changed a lot of things and worked on myself and now I’m ready to win again!”
Not only has he proved that he is indeed ready to win, he’s done so in violent fashion. Out of his last nine victories, Stepanyan has finished 6 of his opponents prior to entering the 3rd round, all via strikes. A bout with Sungjo Jeong last October only lasted a mere 11 seconds while his most recent bout also ended short of the 2nd stanza.
Stepanyan attributes his rebound and the quality of his latest performances to never giving up on himself.
“I think each fighter after the lessons can break them down and can become even stronger if you make the right conclusions! I became stronger because I have not lost faith in myself and because in Russia, Armenia, and in America, many believed in me when I fought in Bellator! I think the most important thing is believing in yourself!”
When asked where he would like to begin in the UFC’s featherweight division if he is signed by the promotion, Stepanyan’s answer clearly displayed this strong faith in his abilities.
“For me, the main thing now is to get to UFC and earn enough victories there to get to the top 10 best fighters! But I feel that I am ready to compete with any fighter!”
He doesn’t have a particular name in mind, but it seems that is only the case because it doesn’t make any difference to Stepanyan who he would fight first in the UFC. He feels the result would be the same regardless of who he stepped into the cage with.
“I can’t highlight anyone because I’m ready to fight anybody!”
In Stepanyan’s mind, even the top of the division wouldn’t be safe from his extensive striking ability. Regarding current UFC featherweight ruler Conor McGregor and former longtime champion Jose Aldo, “Sniper” didn’t hesitate to express his desire to compete with and test his skills against the best the 145 lbs. class has to offer.
“I often thought about it and imagined it! Since I was 12 years old, I’ve competed in boxing, kickboxing, and taekwondo everywhere and earned the master of sports and won the championship of Russia! I with pleasure would check who has better striking technique with both of them!”
If Stepanyan can continue to impress in the manner that he recently has, it should only be a matter of time before he will get his chance in the world’s most prestige MMA promotion and attempt to earn the opportunity to fulfill his dreams of competing with some of the best fighters on the planet.
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