A chance meeting with UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar provided Sunderland scrapper Ross 'The Real Deal' Pearson with all the answers he was looking for. Over the course of seven days, Pearson quickly realized Edgar would be too strong for BJ Penn in their return match and also discovered just what it takes to reach and remain at the top of the lightweight pile.
“I recently visited Frankie's camp in New York and had the chance to train and wrestle with him and his Rutgers wrestling team,” says Pearson. “I learned so much from those guys in seven days. The stuff I've picked up has improved my game so much and also given me an insight into just how talented and hard-working the current UFC lightweight champ is.
“I wasn't working too much on taking guys down, but I was learning how to keep things on my feet and deal with a wrestler who wants to take me down. It was a tremendous experience, as Edgar is one of the best wrestlers in the UFC, and the kind of fighter I wouldn't be able to work with back home in Britain. Frankie and his wrestling team were teaching me simple little things which, I think, may make the world of difference in my next fight.”
Champion Edgar impressively defeated Penn to retain his lightweight belt two weeks ago in Boston. The New Jersey battler shut down Penn's attack and bettered the talented Hawaiian in every area of the fight. Pearson, of course, saw it all coming.
“I really believed in Edgar going into that fight,” explains Pearson. “Once you watch the guy train and see how well-rounded and disciplined is, it's hard not to back him in any fight. It's going to take a very special fighter to get the better of him right now. The more he wins and improves, the tougher it's going to be for the other lightweights out there.”
Though far too modest to admit it, Pearson is one of the 'other' lightweights he refers to and someone tipped to one day vault his way to the top of the 155-pound pile. A winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season nine, Pearson has since defeated Aaron Riley and Dennis Siver in back-to-back fights and, at 25 years of age, has plenty of room for growth in Edgar's weight class.
The heavy-handed Brit cut through veteran Riley in one of the more impressive UFC debuts of recent years, and also handed German Siver his only defeat in his last six fights. However, despite beating a man rarely budged inside the Octagon, Pearson was left wanting more that night in March.
“Hats off to Dennis Siver,” recalls Pearson. “He was a tricky and skillful opponent and was a world champion kickboxer. He knew what he was doing in there and he gave me a decent test over three rounds. He had been in there with some good guys before. I just think I was able to make Siver work at a range he didn't like to work at, and it paid off. That meant I was catching him when he didn't expect me to, and I was taking him out of his own range and game plan.
“I was happy with the way I executed the game plan, and pleased I got the win, but I was also disappointed I wasn't able to finish the fight. You always look to finish fights in the UFC, and it was a shame I couldn't have put the cherry on the cake.”
Currently 13-3 in his flourishing mixed martial arts career, Pearson counts the victory over Siver as his best result to date, yet believes he performed to his best last November against Riley. Mixing up kicks and punches with vicious knees in the clinch, Pearson unleashed his full repertoire on Riley last year, endearing him to both the fans in attendance and those watching at home. Pearson was relentless and enthralling from the get-go and Riley, a durable trier capable of extending and beating prospects, simply had no answer.
“I think the Siver win was the best of my career so far, in terms of the reputation of the opponent and the risk factor, but, as far as performances go, I don't feel it was my best performance,” admits Pearson. “I comfortably beat Siver, but I didn't feel like I fully dominated him how I wanted to. I think I performed better against Aaron Riley (in my UFC debut), to be honest, as I dominated him from start to finish and forced the end of the fight. That was me at my best – but there's still plenty more to come.
“Dana White always says that when a fighter feels like the Octagon is his home, it makes him a dangerous man. Well, I'm starting to feel like the Octagon is my home right now and I'm feeling more and more confident with each and every fight.
While Pearson can argue the merits of his opening two Octagon victories, he can take pride in boasting an unblemished UFC slate and a reputation as one of England's most promising mixed martial artists. Such was the ease at which he cut through Riley and Siver, Pearson has now been handed a substantial step up in class for UFC bout number three. Scheduled to appear at UFC Fight Night on September 15, Pearson lines up against Cole Miller, an angular and talented submission artist possessing long enough limbs to trouble Ross in all areas of the fight.
“When I first heard about Cole as an opponent, I was just excited and eager to get the training camp started, but then when we got the video tapes of Cole's fights, I realized just what an awkward and tricky opponent he is,” reveals Pearson. “A lot of hard work has gone into this fight, basically to keep the fight where I want the fight. If I can keep this fight where I want it to take place, then Cole is going to be in whole lot of trouble.
“I don't think he's fought anybody as technical or seasoned in the stand-up as me. I don't think he will have seen the kind of punches and kicks I'll be throwing his way before. The pressure, the explosiveness and the power that I'm bringing is going to be too much for him on the night. ”
So where should Pearson choose to take the fight? Armed with tight, accurate and powerful boxing skills, Pearson is ferocious at close range and in clinches, and possesses the kind of takedown defense that other British fighters have struggled to locate at times of need. Miller, on the other hand, has been stopped by punchers in previous defeats, yet remains incredibly dangerous in any impending ground battle.
“The type of strikers that have beaten Cole previously aren't really the type of strikers I am,” warns Ross. “I feel I'm a level above those guys and am more comfortable with my boxing than they are. If I can keep the fight where I want it, and keep it all in my range, then I really don't see Cole causing me too much of a problem. I'm not underestimating or bad mouthing him in any way, as I truly respect his skills, but I'm very confident of getting this win. I know fully well that Cole is very dangerous in the positions he wants to be in and, if I mess up at any stage, he is more than good enough to capitalize on my errors.”
Wins over Riley and Siver have jump started the Pearson hype train, and yet the fighter himself admits he's still to be tested in any ground confrontation. So far able to retain a standing stance and strike – with both Riley and Siver willing partners – the Sunderland native relishes the idea of testing a new dimension of his game against floor specialist Miller.
“He's definitely one of the best grapplers I've fought, but I also train with some amazing grapplers,” says Pearson. “I'm not saying they are as good as Cole, but they are really high-level grapplers and know what they're doing. Fighting and training are two very different things, of course, but we're working together on a daily basis and I'm now becoming familiar with certain positions and situations on the ground. It's all feeling very natural right now. My ground game is getting better all the time.
“Cole will test me as a mixed martial artist and will act as a good gauge of where I'm at right now in the sport. I'm not just going in there with another guy that wants to stand and bang. I'm facing a guy who wants to do the complete opposite to what I do, and that's both challenging and exciting. Cole is able to stand and punch, take you down, jump clinch, jump guard and lock in submissions. He's a very versatile fighter, and I'm going to have to be on my toes at all times. This fight is going to make me step up to that next level and show people just how good my MMA skills are. This will bring out the very best in me.”
Here's where Edgar enters the scene. Having watched New Jersey's finest rise to the precipice of the lightweight division through a combination of hard graft and top wrestling, Pearson has learned to relax and perfect the aspects of the game that come naturally to him.
“Believe it or not, I'm not too fussed about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, simply because I'm not a BJJ type of fighter,” explains Pearson. “If I can control a guy and defend submissions, then I'll eventually get the fight where I want it to go. I'm happier doing that than trying to force something that just doesn't come naturally to me.
“It's not as if I'm not training any jiu-jitsu, but I'm focusing more on my wrestling and my ability to control Cole and get the fight into my territory. Why should I try and beat Cole at jiu-jitsu, when that's his best asset? Cole has been training jiu-jitsu for years and it would be foolish to even try and compete at his own game. It would be silly of me to put myself in that situation. I'm doing everything I can to improve my jiu-jitsu, but it's never going to match up to the level that Cole is at right now. I'll probably never be as good as Cole Miller at jiu-jitsu in ten years. In a pure jiu-jitsu battle, he'd beat me hands down. That's just something you have to deal with and work around, and that's what I've done.”
Refreshingly honest and grounded in his approach, Pearson speaks and thinks like a fan. After all, that's precisely what he once was, years before the dream of winning The Ultimate Fighter came to fruition.
“I'm a massive fan of the sport, as well as a fighter, and I'm keen to see how my skills will match up against someone like Cole Miller,” beams Pearson. “If I wasn't fighting, I'd be at home watching, as intrigued as everyone else to see who comes out on top. This is a great match-up and a great blend of styles, and I'm excited by the challenge ahead.
“Cole has been in there against some good guys and has never been blown away of disgraced. He might not win every fight, but Cole is always in there fighting and looking to win. He never goes in there just to survive or get out as quickly as he can. I know I'm in for a war with him. These are the kind of guys that I want to fight. I want to fight guys that come at me and challenge me. Even though Cole wants the fight in his area, I've got no doubt he'll be looking to make a fight of it. I can see this fight being very fast-paced and exciting for as long as it lasts.”
Ross Pearson: Grounded For Life
"I'm a massive fan of the sport, as well as a fighter, and I'm keen to see how my skills will match up against someone like Cole Miller. If I wasn't fighting, I'd be at home watching, as intrigued as everyone else to see who comes out on top. This is a great match-up and a great blend of styles, and I'm excited by the challenge ahead."