A lot of fighters on the way up say that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make their dreams come true. They speak passionately about their willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes in order to be the best fighter they can possibly be. It’s a not a condition reserved for just fighters either — plenty of everyday people talk about their readiness to tackle the difficult decisions in life, only to back away from the challenge when it’s placed before them.
In just over a year, Ross Pearson made a pair of tough choices for the sake of his career.
After spending the majority of his career training in his native England with Team Rough House, the 27-year-old Sunderland native decided to make a change at the beginning of last year. In addition to crossing the Atlantic, he traversed the country too, landing in San Diego, California to work with coach Eric Del Fierro and the team at Alliance MMA.
“It was a hard move — a hard decision to make to come and be out here 100% of the time,” admits Pearson, his accent lessening slightly more with each passing month spent on the West Coast. “I left my family, friends, loved ones back in England, and I’m out here by myself, you know? It was a tough decision, but it was one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my life. I’ve got a great team, great coaches around, and I’m improving all the time. I’ve got great athletes that are helping me in every aspect of this sport, and I’m growing everywhere.”
With the 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter having wrapped up earlier this month, it’s easy to forget that just a couple years earlier, Pearson was a wide-eyed UFC hopeful, part of Michael Bisping’s UK contingent on Season nine of the long-running reality TV competition.
When he steps into the cage on June 22, it will be three years and two days since Pearson scored a unanimous decision win over Andre Winner to enter the fraternity of Ultimate Fighter winners. But after a 4-2 run in the 155-pound ranks that included wins over Dennis Siver and Spencer Fisher, and a razor-thin Fight of the Night loss to Edson Barboza last August, Pearson made the second tough decision he hoped would better his career, opting to shed an extra ten pounds to chase his championship dreams as a member of the UFC featherweight division.
“The cut was tough, man – cutting 22 pounds isn’t nice,” laughs Pearson, who made his featherweight debut at UFC 141 in December. “It doesn’t matter who you are – 22 pounds is a lot to cut, and it’s never fun. In the fight I felt fine. The only thing I felt was that I started slower than what I normally do.”
Paired off with veteran Junior Assuncao, Pearson scored a unanimous decision win, but came out of the gate a little sluggish. While he found his legs and started to show the striking that had him on the fringes of contention before leaving the lightweight ranks, the former TUF winner wasn’t initially too happy about his first appearance in the cage as a featherweight.
Now that he’s had some time to reflect on the bout, and begin preparing for his encore, Pearson sees the fight against the awkward Brazilian as a learning experience, and plans to put the lessons he’s learned to good use in Atlantic City next week.
“Right after the fight when I did my first interview after the fight, I was a little bit disappointed. I was going into that fight wanting to finish, so I think it was just emotions riding high. Having seen the fight played back a few times now, it was a good learning curve. Junior was very unorthodox, and he didn’t approach the fight how I anticipated him to approach the fight, so I had to work the fight out as it was going ahead. It was like a chess match. He was a tricky opponent. He was coming off a good win streak – I think he was undefeated in his last seven fights – so like I said, I had to figure him out as I was going in the fight.
“I had a great camp for the fight,” continues Pearson. “I prepared to finish the fight, and I think I was just a little bit disappointed that I didn’t get the finish. I tried – I think I had him rocked in the second, and late in the third. I just think that if I started the fight at a higher pace, maybe I could have broken him down a little sooner.”
For his sophomore appearance as a featherweight, the 14-5 former bricklayer has been slotted opposite another fighter fresh off his first victory in the UFC’s featherweight ranks, WEC vet Cub Swanson.
The 28-year-old Southern California native dropped his UFC debut back in November, but rebounded two months later with a second round knockout of George Roop. Getting the chance to pair with the always entertaining Team Jackson-Winkeljohn trainee has Pearson excited to get back into the cage.
“I’ve watched Cub fight for a while now – from the WEC, come across to the UFC – and I like his style. I’m excited to test my skills against Cub. He likes to box, and I come from a boxing background. He likes to throw nice, neat shots; he’s good on his feet, and he moves well, so yeah, I’m looking forward to testing my boxing out against his.
“He also has some jiu-jitsu skills: he reaches on a good guillotine, and he attacks things quickly. His jiu-jitsu is pretty smooth, and that’s one area that I’ve been working on, just in case the fight does go to the floor. But I’m anticipating a standup fight. I go into pretty much all my fights looking for a standup fight.”
Pearson’s preparation for this fight shifted from the Alliance home base in San Diego to a familiar setting for the featherweight title hopeful — Las Vegas, Nevada and the Ultimate Fighter Training Center.
With teammate Dominick Cruz and the entire Alliance coaching staff working with half the hopefuls from the recently completed 15th season, Pearson got a chance to return to the place where his UFC career first got started, and admits that being back in those familiar hallways has fueled his fire even more heading into his bout with Swanson.
“(It brought back) real good memories of when I started, rekindling that fire. Just being around all the guys – there’s a lot of good individual guys who come in our gym and our camp who are testing me all the time, and that just sparks the fire even more. Having new guys coming in and testing themselves against you — it’s a good time, and a good camp to be in.
“It’s been a real good learning curve, and it’s been great to be a part of Team Cruz and The Ultimate Fighter. I’ve appreciated helping out and being around it, because it helped me out massively in my career.”
When he announced his intention of dropping down in weight, Pearson made no bones about seeing the path to championship gold in the featherweight ranks being shorter than the one that stood between him and the lightweight title. With one divisional win under his belt, and designs on earning a second, the man known as “The Real Deal” says he’s on the cusp of contention already.
“You know, I see myself at the top of the division already, and I have no doubt in that. I think I’m only a fight or two away from being asked for a title shot. I believe I would put on a great fight with Jose Aldo, and I’m sure the fans would really love to see that fight.
“I’m ready to take my career to the next level, and if the UFC decides to push me for a title shot, I’m ready. I’ve been in the UFC now – this will be my eighth fight – and I’ve had the whole time on The Ultimate Fighter show. I’m not a newcomer to this sport; I’ve been around for a long time, and I’m ready for that step up.”
Uncertainty stops a lot of people from making the difficult decisions in life. Not knowing how things will turn out makes continuing on less daunting than changing course and charging ahead into the unknown. With more than a year in the U.S. under his belt, and a successful transition to the featherweight division underway, the charismatic Brit knows the difficult decisions he made in 2011 were the right choices for his career.
“I think I’ve been out here training with some of the best guys in the world with Team Alliance MMA, and I’ve just come on in leaps and bounds. I’ve always said from the very beginning that I want to show people that I’m a mixed martial artist — I’m not just a striker, I’m not just a boxer, I’m not just a Thai boxer — and that’s what I’m starting to develop now.
“I’m starting to bring together every aspect of mixed martial arts. I’m starting to put everything together how it should be – how it fits in my fighting style – and it’s helped my game out a lot, and I definitely think that it’s been a wise move for me – career-wise – to drop down a division.”
On June 22, Pearson hopes to showcase the new and sharpened skills that have come from sacrificing friends, family, and familiar surroundings, not to mention an extra ten pounds. While he hopes to make a lasting impression with the UFC brass, more than anything, the former Ultimate Fighter winner and featherweight title hopeful wants to send the fans home happy.
“I come to entertain. I come to put on a fight for the fans,” Pearson says in closing. “I feel it’s my job – the fans pay good money to come and see a good fight, and I enjoy a good fight, you know? It’s weird to say, but I enjoy getting punched in the face, kicked in the leg, and seeing how much I can take, and give back.
“I really do enjoy a good fight. I like being tested. I want to see how far I can go in this sport, and the best guys I can be faced against. Fans, just be ready for a great fight because I’m ready to deliver a great fight.”
"I’ve got a great team, great coaches around, and I’m improving all the time. I’ve got great athletes that are helping me in every aspect of this sport, and I’m growing everywhere." - Ross Pearson