(Pearson celebrates his victory over Aaron Riley at UFC 105)
Sunderland native Ross Pearson’s grounded and likeable personality won over legions of fans during his time on The Ultimate Fighter. In a nation vs. nation format, the American viewers even found themselves rooting for the combatants from the other side of the athletic due to their work ethic and humble nature. They were there to prove a point and use the unique opportunity to springboard themselves into the world’s MMA elite in the UFC. Their success helped to dispel the myth that UK MMA was light years behind the world leaders and lightweight winner Pearson was one of the key figures in that.
Following his win over fellow Brit (and training partner) Andre Winner at the finale, Pearson wasn’t handed a ‘gimme’ as he would face the gritty veteran Aaron Riley – a well-versed professional from Greg Jackson’s renowned and successful camp. Pearson was an underdog coming in to the fight. Many thought that the relative inexperience would be a factor but a consummate performance at UFC 105 inside Manchester’s MEN Arena again silenced the doubters. Solid boxing and damaging knees ended Riley’s night early and Pearson gained even more acclaim and legitimised his spot in the UFC’s lightweight division.
Now he faces another stern task in the shape of muscled German native Dennis Siver. Despite a capricious start to his UFC career, Siver has notched up a three fight win streak with two spectacular TKOs due to his now infamous spinning back kick. Paul Kelly was the latest recipient and Pearson’s camp has focused on this, without forsaking his “bread and butter”.
“I’ve been at home [Sunderland] training with my boxing, Thai, MMA and conditioning coaches and heading down to the Rough House to do my sparring aswell,” he noted. “I’ve been doing a lot of stand-up. My bread and butter will always be my striking. Boxing is where I come from and I don’t think many lightweights have got boxing as good as me.
“I’m going to mix it up though,” he continued, respecting Siver’s style. “He throws a lot of kicks and you can’t just box a guy like that. I’m prepared to mix it up in all ranges because if you let him settle, that is when he’s dangerous. I’ll use my hands, feet, takedowns, everything.”
Referencing the potentially fight-ending back kick, Pearson also added, “Yeah, we’ve been looking at that obviously. But, I throw them all day so he has to watch for me doing things! At the end of the day, I’ve got to make the fight my fight and mix it up, not let him settle.”
Picking up on the intricacies of his opponent’s style is something he can now do, as this is just his second training camp as a full-time professional. The exposure and success from TUF put him in a place where this was viable, and now he is using it to transform himself into the best fighter possible. Sparring with the UK’s most elite team, the Rough House, is no doubt bringing him on, especially at a time when so many of the guys have huge bouts coming their way. Dan Hardy became the first Brit to fight for a UFC title this weekend, Paul Daley faces Josh Koscheck in May and add in to this the peaking of camps for guys like Nick Osipczak, and it’s the perfect atmosphere:
“It’s been amazing,” Ross revealed about this pivotal time for the team. “The gym is bouncing. We train hard, spar hard and there’s just a massive buzz around with all these big fights happening. It’s a great set of lads and we all look out for each other.”
Going against such hard-hitters on a regular basis can only stand him in good stead for Siver. Left hooks don’t come much more powerful than that of Daley, and counter punches don’t often connect with the velocity that Hardy brings to the table. All these factors have seen Pearson come into the fight as the favourite; both a positive and difficult situation for him.
“Dennis has fought a lot on the undercard so only the real hardcore fans know how good he is. Basically, people are pushing me as the favourite because they’ve seen me fight on main cards and on the show, but you can’t underestimate him just because he hasn’t had that exposure. I’ve just got to focus on what I’m doing and not pay too much attention to it. He’s my toughest opponent to date and a lot of lightweights would try and steer clear of him because of how dangerous he is, with little name value. Hopefully a good fight with me will get him the recognition he deserves.”
As Ross puts it, this is “an amazing time for the UK guys” and he is looking to build on this momentum with a victory over Siver. He’s aiming for the top and is certainly motivated to get there.
“I want tough fights and I want big names,” he asserted. “This is what I want to do. I’m in the gym every day getting better. I want this.
“Looking at someone like BJ Penn makes me hungry. I’m so impressed by him and a massive fan, he’s unbelievable, but that’s what makes me get up in the morning and go on that run. It’s what makes me train harder. I want to be that guy that everybody looks up to.”
The next step is Dennis Siver at March 31st at UFC Fight Night: Gomi vs. Florian. Fighting beneath another fighter that influenced him in his early career in the Japanese legend, Pearson is looking to impress and prove that the TUF hype is justified and, once again, that he is “The Real Deal”.