After dominating the regional scene in the UK as a light heavyweight, Darren Stewart (8-3) joined the ranks of the UFC in late 2016. His first bout was a weird affair with Francimar Barroso in Sao Paulo, eventually ruled a no contest (something Stewart didn’t learn until his return trip touched down in Heathrow). He dropped the rematch to Barroso and, after moving to middleweight, lost his next two fights as well.
In April, with his UFC career on the line, he faced Eric Spicely in Liverpool. In that fight, Stewart was finally able to display the striking that had earned him five stoppages in his perfect pre-UFC record. In the second round Stewart dropped Spicely with a straight left. He followed up with ground and pound to force the stoppage. It was his first win in close to two years.
Bloody Elbow caught up with Stewart as he prepared to take on Charles Byrd (10-4) on this Saturday’s UFC 228 pay-per-view card. When asked how he felt about the outcome and his performance against Spicely, the Londoner gave a two word answer: “Good, man.”
Back when referee Leon Roberts waved off the Spicely fight Stewart howled with emotion. The passion stayed with Stewart, even as the official decision was being read. After his hand was raised Stewart dropped to his knees in a tearful display, forcing UFC analyst Dan Hardy to crouch in order to conduct his in-cage interview.
When pressed on the motivation behind his extreme show of euphoria, Stewart said it was primarily a product of ‘frustration’. “Because with all that’s happened in my UFC career so far,” he said. “It got to a point where it was like, people don’t know what I’m about. My name’s just fading away now.”
Feeling bruised after failing to make an impact in what he termed “two years of havoc”, Stewart decided he needed to adjust his mindset ahead of the Spicely fight.
“I went into that fight thinking, you know what f—k this,” revealed Stewart. “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you. Just do you. And that’s what I did. I did me and I finally showed people what I’m all about. I think just getting to the UFC I tried to be someone else, but this time I didn’t care what happens. I could have won or could have lost and be on my way out. It is what it is. I just did me and it worked. So from now on I’m doing me.”
Stewart added that getting his first UFC victory had buoyed his confidence. However, he said his trio of losses in 2017 have been instrumental in his improvement as a fighter. The experience of losing and now winning in the UFC has Stewart thinking things would be different if he met any of his past opponents.
“A loss is a loss and a win is a win,” said Stewart. “The guys I fought, I just believe I made mistakes. I made mistakes. One thing that let me down was cardio. My cardio and fight IQ. I’ve never been beat up in my life. I’ve tapped out, but no one’s ever beaten me up in my whole life. I believe the guys that beat me; they were better on the night, but I don’t believe they are fully better than me. The mindset I have now, if we had a rematch it would be a different ballgame. I take those losses like a man, but I believe I lost because of me. And I’ve worked and worked on what I need to outside of camp. It showed in my last fight and it’s going to show again.”
Stewart added that it’s not just in-cage experiences that has him feeling like a totally improved fighter, but also everything that comes with competing inside the UFC Octagon.
“The whole UFC journey, that experience alone has changed me a lot. I’ve improved as a fighter, yeah, but I would say the journey and the whole experience of being in the UFC has changed me a lot more. The hotels, the fans, USADA giving you drug tests, the whole experience of being in the UFC has made me grow as a person.”
Stewart believes this growth will be the deciding factor when he squares off against Byrd on Saturday night.
“Charles is a very good fighter,” remarked Stewart. “He reminds me a lot of me, when I first came to the UFC; just the stuff he does. He’s good, very explosive, but he rushes things a lot — which used to be me. He’s going to do the same thing as Spicely, in trying to take me down. The only difference is he’s got a bit more striking than Spicely, but he’s going to try and take me down. And that’s not going to happen.”
“I take my time. He rushes,” continued Stewart, who said he had better timing and fight IQ than Byrd. “He’s got that. I definitely see that. But I just see a lot of early me in him, that’s not a bad thing, but I reckon I’m just a much more evolved fighter than him. I reckon he’s just going to be explosive in the first round, but after that it’s game over.”
You can see if Stewart’s prediction is on point by tuning into FX on Saturday night. Darren Stewart vs. Charles Byrd is the opening fight of UFC 228’s FX prelims. The action begins at 8PM ET.