(Ross Pearson celebrates a victory, now he is hoping for more.)
The recent string of results hasn’t exactly been inspiring for the Rough House crew, with Andre Winner dropping a decision to Nik Lentz and Nick Osipczak also losing on points to Greg Soto at UFC 118. Dan Hardy’s valiant but incontrovertible loss in his title bout against GSP and memories of Paul Daley’s smothering at the hands of Josh Koscheck are also fresh in the minds of the Nottingham-based fight team and it looks like Ross Pearson is the one left to prove he is “The Real Deal”.
“I was devastated for the lads, we were looking to get two wins for the team [at UFC 118],” notes the Sunderland native as he took time out of his training for UFC Fight Night: Marquardt vs. Palhares to speak to Your MMA. “But Cole Miller is not the same type of fighter as them guys. I feel on any other day Nick and Dre could be beating those guys and they’ll probably be disappointed but I feel that it’s down to me to get us back to winning ways.”
He continued, “There’s no pressure or anything but I’m confident that I’ll bring the win back home.”
Pearson has certainly been putting the effort in, moving around and mixing up his training in order to propel himself to the next level. The main issue that has contributed to the UK UFC contingent losing fights is wrestling or, as the more well-versed Americans are keen to point out, a lack thereof. “The Real Deal” doesn’t avoid the issue, instead tackling it head on and going out of his way to improve.
“They [the critics] are not wrong. Once the guys hit the top level, they’re getting stuck by the wrestlers and I think the only way they’re going to change that is by doing the things that I do like going over to America and training with the wrestling camps or bringing them over here for your camps. That’s how it’s going to develop.”
Many gyms and fighters are taking heed, and that can be seen in the development of wrestling games in such fighters as Michael Bisping and John Hathaway. Bellator FC fighter ‘Judo’ Jim Wallhead is also known for his prowess in the clinch and takedown defence, and Pearson has spent time with current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, something he credits for his development. “I’ve been out to train with Frankie Edgar and the guys out there. I train wrestling twice a week and I think I adapt my wrestling training well to MMA. We’ve got great guys in the gym like “Judo Jim”, who has some of the best takedown defence I’ve ever seen and he’s been passing on his knowledge to me.
“Also my style of fighting and the way I’m built just makes it hard for the wrestlers,” added Pearson, dissecting the game. “I’m not the world’s best and I’m not saying I’m better than the wrestlers out there by any means, but I feel that I can wrestle and I’ve the built and body type that lends itself well to it.”
Upcoming opponent Cole Miller has been vocal in his disdain for the ‘lay and pray’ fighters and those not actively seeking to finish fights. Miller can legitimately stake a claim as a finisher, with fourteen of his sixteen wins coming inside the distance. Not only does this make for an exciting battle with Pearson, but it also means that the Brit has had to tailor his training for an opponent who has every intention of halting his ascent before their fifteen minutes in the cage us up although, as he admits, “This one is probably the most basic camp that I’ve done strategy wise.”
“A lot of this camp has been based around his aggressive Jiu Jitsu,” Pearson revealed, gesturing towards Miller’s eleven submission victories. “It’d be stupid of me to think I’m going to come in and grapple with this guy. In this camp I’ve not learnt one submission; why try and play the submission game with this guy that’s ahead of me in that way? We’re fighting an MMA fight, it’s not a Jiu Jitsu comp.
“This one’s been all about wrestling, keeping control and posture, scrambling, keeping in tight and making it difficult for him to attack with his JJ. A lot of my camp has been about stifling his submission attacks, and that’s come from learning the wrestling pins and controls and having good posture.”
With wins over Aaron Riley, Dennis Siver and team-mate Andre Winner in the TUF finale officially on his UFC resume, Ross’ striking has been a key factor in securing victory. His intention is not to stray too far from his roots, and he has been working with Salford Muay Thai, Spartan MMA and Team Rough House to further his stand-up game whilst also developing himself in other areas. The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.
“I feel like they [Salford Muay Thai] have brought my stand up game and developed it to the next level,” he noted. “They’ve developed a better Ross Pearson – this is the best Ross Pearson there’s ever been. I feel as fast, sharp and powerful as ever and the fighter I am now could beat the one that beat Dennis Siver and Aaron Riley.”
Cole Miller’s 6’1” frame poses some interesting questions on the feet as well as on the mat though. Pearson stands at 5’8” and the different in reach is something Pearson doesn’t worry about. He is adamant that he does “really well against tall, rangy guys”. His head movement, footwork and combinations have managed to pick apart many adversaries thus far and he believes he has the answers to what Miller brings in that range too:
“He doesn’t really use his strikes to KO guys, he uses it to close distance and get a hold of opponents. We’ve been working on a lot of things – subtle things – like where his hands go after shots and where he moves so there’s nothing in this fight that we haven’t looked at. I feel very confident in what I’m doing and where I’m gonna go with it.”
A confident Pearson will be a dangerous one and this, admittedly his “toughest test to date” is another great gauge for him. You know “The Real Deal” is doing something right when he is starting to get the acclaim of the American fans, notorious for not cutting British fighters much slack.
Born and raised in England’s North East, Pearson yearns for championship gold to elevate him from humble beginnings, and Cole Miller is a step in right direction. Consistently bigger fights have built him to this point and, whilst he is keen to stress that he might not be a champion in the immediate future, he is moving in the right direction.
“The next one’s always the biggest fight of your life. I’m not looking past him by any means but I do feel he’s standing in the way of me moving on to the next tier of competition. A win here will take me to the top tier and the top tens; I’m fully prepared and ready to go for that.”
His motivation is not to be a journeyman or an ‘also-ran’, but someone who could look back and say they were in there with the best and competing at the highest level.
“I don’t want to be fighting just for the sake of fighting – I want to fight to be the best and hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to prove that I can be up there. Everything is down to the UFC at the end of the day; I’m progressing and feeling confident in my own abilities. I don’t want to do things too soon, but before long I want to be testing myself against the top guys in the world and seeing how I do.”
There are few that are as hard-working and deserving of their success, but twenty-five year old Pearson shows no signs of slowing down. He wants that shot, and he wants it bad. It’ll take some man to stand in the way of his dreams and he is only limited by his dedication and aspirations, two of his traits that know no limits. “I’m just concentrating on what I’m doing and improving and if it comes to the time when I get a shot, I’ll be fully prepared and ready to take it – whoever is the champion.
“I’m not saying it’s gonna be next year or the year after, I just know when it comes I’ll take the chance.”
The next step on Ross’ path to the top comes on September 15th, and Cole Miller had better be prepared.