The UK’s Darren Stewart (7-1 1NC) enters the UFC’s Octagon for the third time on Saturday night at UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis. The fight will be Stewart’s first in the UFC against someone not named Francimar Barroso.
Stewart’s first fight with Barroso came last November in Brazil. That night he was declared winner via TKO. However, the decision was changed to a no contest while Stewart was flying back home to Britain. Brazilian sanctioning officials had decided that an inadvertent head butt was responsible for Barroso not being able to continue, not Stewart’s punches.
The second light heavyweight clash with Barroso came in Stewart’s backyard; at London’s O2 Arena. After a good first round, Barroso overwhelmed Stewart on route to a unanimous decision victory.
That was Stewart’s first loss and it has lead to major changes in his fighting career. The most notable change is that the 5’10” Stewart is now fighting at middleweight, something his coaches have been begging him to do for years.
“I was getting away with it back then,” Stewart told Bloody Elbow; referring to why he had refused his coaches wishes to come down in weight. Fighting on the UK regional circuit, at 205lbs, Stewart won all seven of his pro fights with over half them finishing in the first round due to strikes.
But after trying to get to grips with a UFC calibre light heavyweight Stewart now knows that coming down in weight is imperative to any future success he might have on a ZUFFA canvas.
“I was getting picked up and thrown like a rag doll,” said Stewart of the second Barroso fight. “But I didn’t give up. He was just too big. Way too big. Don’t get me wrong, there’s going to be big middleweights, but I should be able to handle them.”
At UFC Fight Night: Manuwa vs. Anderson, Darren Stewart got off to a good start against Francimar Barroso - landing the first and only take down of his young UFC career.
Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
- However, in the second round the British fighter tired and the Brazilian seized the initiative. Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
- Barroso took the second round after out landing Stewart on the feet and taking him down on each of his six take down attempts. Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
- The third round was a closer affair, with Stewart landing ten more strikes than Barroso. But the Brazilian’s control against the cage likely won him the round. Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
- The win took Barroso to 19-4 (1 NC) for his career. Though, he would lose to Aleksander Rakic six months later. Stewart’s record dropped to 7-1 (1 NC). Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
Stewart succeeded in a practice weight cut in June. Since then he’s had to be strict with himself to stay within reach of 185lbs. “If I go crazy and not watch what I’m doing, I’ll end back at heavyweight, especially because my body’s not used to it yet. So it’s been stressful.”
Despite the stress of coming down in weight, Stewart said he is seeing benefits of the cut during training. “I’m much faster. My physique is better. My stamina’s better and my clothes fit better, too.”
Along with the physical changes, Stewart said he has noticed some mental changes as well. “There a lot more weight off my shoulders. I’m much more relaxed, more calm. It’s a big change competing at middleweight.”
Learning he needed to lose weight was not the only lesson Stewart took away from his fights with Barroso. After being stifled by the Brazilian for the majority of their second fight, Stewart said he now has a better understanding of how to “fight smart” and “play the game.”
He said he’s also learned to, “not be so explosive at the beginning of a fight.” Even though he is known for being a first round knockout artist, Stewart said he is keen to pace himself better in his forthcoming UFC contest. He admitted to being tired in second and third round of the Barroso fight and that this likely cost him the fight.
“I need to take my time and be more composed. You’ve got 15 minutes, what’s the rush? I need to not be in a rush and I need to realize that if I get hit, I don’t need to get frustrated. Every time Barroso hit me I got frustrated and I tried to attack more, but me getting frustrated was just getting me more tired. This is the sport we’re in, we’re here to get hit. You’re going to get hit, so don’t get frustrated about it. Don’t be surprised.”
Though he hates to admit it, Stewart also said that the occasion around the second fight with Barroso had a negative effect on his performance. Stewart claimed he went into the rematch far too emotional, because of slights he perceived from Barroso in Brazil. Fighting on his own turf, in the massive O2 Arena, was also surprisingly difficult for him.
“I thought I would have handled it better,” he revealed. “People who know me can watch that fight back and tell you I didn’t handle it well... I’m still a baby in this game, I’m still growing in this game. The UFC is what I always wanted, I was just filled with emotion that night. Because it’s a rematch, because of what he had done to me. Not just that, the whole UFC experience as well. It takes a while to get used to it, but I’ve had two trial runs now and I should be able to deal with it better now.”
“I just keep making it too stressful for myself,” continued Stewart. “I don’t know why I keep doing it. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just three letters, cage is the same.”
After his experience in London, Stewart is relieved and excited to be fighting far from home in Norfolk, VA. “I thought if I was going to someone’s territory I would be more nervous and I’d be more scared and that being in my home town I would enjoy it more. But you know what, my two fights in the UFC, it’s worked out the opposite way around.”
Stewart said his goal for Norfolk was to “go in there and enjoy” himself. “The UFC is something I’ve always wanted and I got there and I started crumbling. And it shouldn’t be like that. I should be going in there and enjoying myself and that’s what I’m looking to do. Win or lose.”
“Not much for us to research,” said Stewart of his current opponent. “He’s 5-0 and comes from a K1 background or Glory background, that’s all I know to be fair.”
Stewart is a black-belt in taekwondo, but he said that doesn’t mean he’s looking to have a striking war with Roberson. “That’s what he wants. That’s his background,” said Stewart. “I’m looking to hit and move. Hit and don’t get hit. Be like a mosquito. He wants me to stand and bang. I’m not going to do that. I’m not scared to do it, but that’s not my game. K1 guys and Muay Thai guys, they don’t get on with me. Because I move too much. And now I’m at a lighter weight; I’m rapid.”
Darren Stewart vs. Karl Roberson is the first fight of the night at UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis. You can see that bout live on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30pm ET.