A former Georgia state champion and National Collegiate Wrestling Association champion at Tennessee Temple is looking to add another title to his name: Ultimate Fighter.
Ringgold native Ian Stephens competed in the opening episode of the 19th season of "The Ultimate Fighter." Stephens, who also was a two-time NAIA All-American in his time with Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, used his extensive wrestling background to dominate New Yorker Lyman Good, a former Bellator champion, on the way to an easy decision.
Stephens credits his brother for introducing him to wrestling, a sport he quickly fell in love with.
"Nothing outside the mat matters. Your background doesn't matter," he said. "It proves that hard work wins. In wrestling, it's me versus you."
When his mother moved to southern Alabama, where there were no wrestling programs for him, he stayed in Georgia with another family member until his mom returned.
"I couldn't live without it," Stephens said.
He was a three-time Georgia runner-up at Gordon Lee and Ridgeland before breaking through to win the 160-pound title at LaFayette High School.
Stephens then welcomed the rigors of collegiate wrestling.
"High schoolers don't realize that [in college] everyone is the same level," Stephens said. "Every day you get a high level of competition, and that pressure wasn't going to get to me. I elevated myself, embraced it and used it as my drive and motivation."
With the end of his decorated wrestling career in sight, Stephens did not know what he wanted do once he graduated, but wanted to stay in shape. His friend turned him onto mixed martial arts, which quickly became a second passion.
"It's crazy," he said. "When I was a kid, it was just wrestling. I never thought I'd be here [in MMA] with limitless possibilities and options. The sport is so real and true. There are so many weapons because you can attack and defend with anything on your body. It's the only real, true fight in the world."
Stephens found a knack for the sport, so his friend introduced him to a real trainer, and he now trains at Blalock's IMB in Chattanooga. He quickly found success, remaining undefeated in six amateur and four professional bouts.
Stephens said wrestling has both helped and hindered him in his MMA career because it became more than a sport -- it is his nature. Beyond wrestling, he credits preparation for his success.
"If you dedicate your life, put more work in and deserve it, you'll win," he said. "You can only know you've prepared and done all you can do. Success is met by the preparation."
Preparation and the success that followed led Stephens to a coveted opportunity competing for a spot on the "The Ultimate Fighter," the winners of which receive several prizes, including a six-figure contract with the UFC.
The process to get on the show is long, including interviews, extensive research and several skill and physical tests.
"They not only want to know that you can compete, but you have to have a personality, too," Stephens said.
With his win, Stephens secured a spot on Team Edgar, led by Frankie Edgar, the No. 2 ranked featherweight in the UFC and a former lightweight champion. His attention now turns to the team competition, each fight more important than the last.
"No matter when or where, my next fight is the biggest fight of my life. It's whatever is in front of me," Stephens said. "This is what I love to do. I want to be in the UFC because it's the best of the best.
"We all say, 'I want to be a world champion,' but all I want to do is fight one at a time and leave it all out there each time. I want to say I did the best I could do and gave it everything I had."
The show airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
Contact Idris Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.