Darren Stewart embracing new methods to reach UFC's upper echelon

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It may not have gone Darren Till's way in Dallas, Texas last weekend but there was another Darren fighting on the UFC 228 card, London's very own Darren Stewart, who scored his second win of 2018.

Former light heavyweight Stewart (9-3-1) moved down to 185 pounds last year, however that coincided with a three-fight skid. A second-round stoppage win over Charles Byrd (10-5), due to elbows and strikes, last weekend inside the American Airlines arena meant "The Dentist" now has back to back wins this year.

"It's good to be on winning ways, I wasn't crying this time which was good," Stewart told ESPN. "It's good to be back on a winning streak. The fight didn't go too to plan as I was taking a few shots than normal, but I weathered the storm and got through it. Overall, yeah, it felt great."

While one might assume, looking at it on paper, that Stewart's run of losses in 2017 may have been due to the adjustment to 185 pounds, the Londoner says that couldn't be further from the truth.

"It was nothing to do with the weight class, it was my cardio," Stewart explained. "Cardio is key, I never lost because of my ability. My mate that looks after my nutrition and conditioning said it's my cardio and I never understood what he meant but I see a big difference now. If you watch my old fights, after round one, I'm blowing and I'm hanging on my coach for dear life and now I'm just breezing through it. This fight here, he was banging me so much and putting the work on me, but I sat down in the corner and nothing happened. It's nothing to do with guys being better than me, it was my cardio. If you got no cardio, you can't think straight. I went to war with Julian (Marquez) and I think I was winning that first round and I could've done the same thing, but I had no cardio and panicked and went for a takedown. Why? And it's not just me that did that, I've seen a lot of people do it in the sport. When you got no cardio, you don't think straight and do erratic things and it can go wrong. I put more work in now, I train six days a week now so that plays a part as well as to why I'm back on winning ways."

If you follow Stewart on social media you'll be aware of his passion for salsa dancing and while that may have aided in his conditioning earlier in his career, he's had to change things up to compete with the upper echelon in the UFC.

"The salsa was good, and it was enough for the Cage Warriors level but what I'm doing now is just hitting stairs more, hill sprints and swimming," Stewart said. "I'm doing stairs like a mad man. Salsa was good, and I do salsa now and then when I can but I'm just too busy training now."

Like many fighters' making their way up through the ranks, the goal is to be a full-time athlete and earn enough money so they can focus all their time and energy in to becoming the best fighters they can be. Until then supplementing that with a full-time job is the norm. Stewart, at least for now, is no different and it comes with it's fair share of sacrifices."

"I wish, I'm not full time," Stewart said. "Hopefully God willing I will be a full-time fighter. I'm still working hence why people say, 'I don't know how you do it.' The people I fight against, they're training full time. I don't do that. I'm going to work, I'm still training and also be a family man. I see my son once a week, a full day, once a week. I'm happy he's at the age where he can understand a little bit. When I say I'm going he says, 'Daddy's going punchy punchy.' It's sad but you got to make sacrifices and when he's older he'll realize what I'm doing it for. So, six days week working, training and being a family man is no joke. People out there, if they were in my position, they would crumble straight away but I just keep going. I hardly speak to my mum, that's how bad it is. It's not on purpose and I go see her when I can but that's how busy I am. Sometimes I get into arguments with the Mrs. But everyone understands the sacrifices I got to make to do this. I do wish I could go full time but it's tough. Money wise it's not enough. You have to keep pushing to get to that level."

If you think fighting in a cage was an extreme life choice, that pales in comparison to what Stewart must deal with on a day to day basis.

"I'm a custody officer so I don't work in a prison, I work in a court," Stewart explained. "So, when it comes to court I take them (prisoners) off the van, take them into the van, take them to the toilet, feed them, give them a drink, fight with them, cry with them, laugh with them, you name it, I do the whole lot with them and then they go home or back to prison. That's what I do, I just sit in court all day. I'm resting physically but not mentally. You got to be aware of the custody escaping so it's still stressful on the brain but that's what I do, I'm a prison custody officer (PCO). It's not too strenuous on the body physically. Mentally it is, but physically it's OK, I have enough energy to go training."

With his fair share of incidents on the job over the last four years, Stewart says it's helped him with his temperament, especially on is approach to opponents inside the Octagon.

"I've had loads of incidents, people trying to run out, people trying to say they're not going in a van, but you can't go into these situations like you would on the street or in a MMA fight. You have to show control and restraint is what they call it. You have to go in there professionally. People are sh---ing up in their cell, it's a crazy job, you have to good interpersonal skills. Sometimes you have to talk to them to get them into the van."

"You learn how to be calm. Before this job, I was just doing MMA had a little temper here and there, get into fights and knock people out quickly in the first round, like everything was rushed. In this job you learn how to stay calm, relaxed and approach someone differently."

For now, the Brit is open to getting in one more fight this year, but wouldn't mind some time off with his partner expecting the birth of their second child in a matter of months.

"If I do fight again this year, it can only be November. My Mrs. is due with our second baby middle of January so I'm not trying to go out in December or January. Last time I did that, I fought, and my Mrs. was in labor. Luckily, I made it in time for my son being born. That was a one off. I don't advise anybody to do it. I would never ever do it again. I don't care if the UFC gave me all the money in the world, I would never do it again, because she would kill me, and I love my life. If it's not November, no biggie, I can fight end of January or February."

"Anybody in the top 15. Why not go for it, you know? Life's all about taking risks so why not go for it."