“I’m going to have the crowd behind me and it’s going to be great. We’re both up and coming guys, and this time I’ll be ready.”
I have never played rugby, but I enjoy watching it on television every once in a blue moon.
Or so I thought until I chatted with Anthony Perosh.
A little background: I remember a few occasions, after midnight, laying in bed studying “Aussie” rules football on ESPN2. Though the American in me didn’t totally comprehend the sport’s rules or scoring system, the non-stop speed, palpable grit and poetic chaos of the game instinctively fascinated me.
Rugby, what a game!
And then, after a few years of harboring this belief – Perosh, a native Australian, made me feel utterly childish during a recent interview.
“No, no it’s not rugby. It’s different,” the 38-year-old UFC fighter said, shattering my assumption that Aussie rules football and rugby were one and the same.
“It’s complicated,” he continued. “We have four types of football and they’re all different. We have soccer, then rugby, then rugby league and Aussie rules football. That’s how crazy it is in Australia.”
Perosh, who is set to clash with Tom Blackledge at UFC 127 in Sydney, ought to know. For more than a decade he’s been an ardent fan and season ticket holder of the Sydney Swans of the Australian Football League. He’s had the same seat at Sydney Cricket Ground stadium since 2002: Bay 8, Row J, Seat 9.
“The Aussie Rules Football is recognized as the only national football league in Australia because it’s in every city and state in Australia,” Perosh said. “I love watching; it’s my getaway every two weeks when they play their home game. I go and support my team. I cheer when they win and yell when they lose.”
Perosh figures to be the subject of much cheering himself when he steps into the Octagon for the fourth time on February 27. The Aussie fan favorite seeks redemption for his TKO loss last year to the legendary Mirko Cro Cop, a Croatian who shares the same bloodline as Perosh.
It’s worth reminding people that Perosh (10-6) took the bout with Cro Cop on a mere two days’ notice after Ben Rothwell was scratched from the UFC 110 main card with an injury. Most fighters wouldn’t dare step up to the plate on such a short turnaround. Yet Perosh, a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has competed several times in the prestigious Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling World Championships, said he was inspired by something he heard UFC president Dana White say at a press conference days before the event.
“That very morning at the UFC press conference, Dana White said, ‘It’s amazing how many guys turn down opportunities,’” Perosh said.
Later that day Perosh was offered the fight.
“I didn’t want to be one of those guys who turned down an opportunity to fight one of the biggest names in the world in front of my home crowd,” he said. “So it was almost a no-brainer.”
Anyone who saw the fight can never question Perosh’s will to win. Unable to take Cro Cop down to the mat, where Perosh excels, the last-minute replacement absorbed quite a beating. His face a bloody mess, Perosh valiantly fought on for 10 minutes before the cageside doctor halted the fight at the conclusion of round two.
This time around, Perosh has benefitted from a full training camp and dropped to the 205-pound weight class, though he knows substantially less about Blackledge’s tendencies than Cro Cop’s.
“From the footage I’ve seen he looks to be well rounded,” Perosh said of the British fighter, who trains with Michael Bisping at the Wolfslair Academy. “He likes to head kick and he looks well-rounded with his wrestling and BJJ as well.”
One of the most unlikely outcomes for the fight would be Blackledge triumphing by submission; no fighter has toppled Perosh in that fashion. Perosh’s biggest weakness, however, has been his lack of hand speed and general stiffness in the standup realm. When he doesn’t win by submission, Perosh’s odds of winning plummet. He’s won by TKO three times, been technically knocked out four times and lost twice by decision. Of note: Perosh has never won a fight that went the distance. Neither has Blackledge, who has never heard the final bell – whether winning or losing - in his 16 fight career, so something will have to give in their meeting.
For Perosh the stakes are huge. He has yet to have his hand raised inside of the Octagon. This is his golden chance, in front of his hometown faithful, to finally achieve that elusive milestone.
Perosh does not mention the fact that time is ticking on that dream. He is a few months shy of his 39th birthday but claims he is in the best shape of his life.
“I’m going to have the crowd behind me and it’s going to be great,” Perosh said. “It’ll be just like when I fought Cro Cop last year except this time I’ll be fighting a non-contender just like me. We’re both up and coming guys, and this time I’ll be ready.”