"For me, making it to the UFC isn’t about getting famous; it’s about knowing that you’re at the highest level in the sport." - Jesse Ronson
When you’re a fighter competing on the regional circuit, every time your phone rings, you can’t help but wonder if this is “The Call.”
With each subsequent victory, as your winning streak grows – five, six, then seven, and then eight – hearing your agent or manager’s ringtone on your smartphone triggers an internal “Is this it?” reaction that can’t properly be put into words.
A nervous energy courses through your body. Hopeful that you’re going to hear the words you’ve been waiting to hear, anxious that bad news awaits on the other end of the line, each call could be the one that brings your greatest professional dreams one step closer.
Jesse Ronson has been waiting for “The Call.”
The Wait is Over
The 26-year-old fighting out of London, Ontario has been the best Canadian lightweight competing outside of the UFC for the last year. He’s unbeaten since losing to current UFC lightweight (and fellow Canadian) Mike Ricci in April 2011, posting eight consecutive victories to add his name to the list of regional fighters seemingly ready for a chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
A little over two weeks ago, Ronson got that excited-slash-nervous feeling that comes with hearing his phone indicate his manager was calling.
“I got a call a little after 4pm; my manager told me I wasn’t going to be fighting another big fight (that I had lined up), and I was really looking forward to it,” explains Ronson, who is represented by Robert Roveta of Denaro Sports Marketing.
“He led me on, thinking that nothing was going to happen, but then he dropped the UFC bomb, and that was a lot better. I almost passed out right there. I stepped on the scale, and I almost passed out there too because I had a lot of work to do. (Laughs) This is something I’ve been wanting since I was 13 years old, so it feels great. It’s like a dream come true.
While his emotions are running high and the anticipation of making that first trip into the Octagon is something he’s been waiting to experience since beginning his pro career in late 2009, the hard-hitting lightweight known as “The Body Snatcher” has the benefit of being able to look to a handful of seasoned UFC veterans for guidance and direction.
The 13-2 UFC neophyte trains at the Adrenaline Training Centre, the longtime home base of veterans Chris Clements and Sam Stout, as well as former featherweight title challenger Mark “The Machine” Hominick. So far, the excitable young kickboxer appears to be taking cues from his colleagues, and approaching his maiden journey into the UFC cage with a veteran’s mindset.
“Hominick told me, `This is the beginning. This is your second career starting in the UFC,’” recalls Ronson, who counts victories over veterans Tony Hervey and Ryan Healy among his 13 career wins. “He said, `I know you’re good now, but it’s a whole different level. Prepare yourself – you’re going to need to train even harder, you’re going to need to train everything even more,’ and that’s something I’m looking forward to.
“For me, making it to the UFC isn’t about getting famous; it’s about knowing that you’re at the highest level in the sport. Being in the UFC means I have the potential to be the best in the world in my weight class at some point in my life, and that’s something that I always wanted to be able to say.”
As much as Ronson cites the example set by Hominick, Stout, and the other Team Tompkins veterans that populate the gym with helping him see the amount of energy and effort that goes into having a lengthy UFC career, he credits a shift in approach and finding the right coach with setting him on the course to accumulate eight consecutive victories and take this next step in his career.
“My head coach - my MMA and wrestling coach, Andrew Elliott - that guy has changed my game night and day and then night and day and then night and day again,” Ronson explains with a laugh. “Without him, there wouldn’t be guys like me or Chad Laprise or the other guys coming up, and even the current fighters that you know (from our gym) in the UFC wouldn’t be as good as they are.
“What really helped me is that I stopped training to defend other people’s strengths. When I fought Mike Ricci and Lindsay Hawkes, the whole training camps were just to defend what they were good at. Instead, I started training my strengths, and using my strengths to beat other people at what they’re good at, and that gave me a whole new level of confidence. Everything just started falling together. I changed a lot of things, and now I’ve got an eight-fight win streak and the UFC called.”
The Game Plan
The main strength in the arsenal of the latest Canadian lightweight to join the UFC ranks is crisp, technical striking that comes with more power than opponents and observers tend to expect.
And he makes no secrets about his weapon of choice either. After all, it’s right there in his nickname.
“It’s an under-utilized tool, and it devastates,” he says of the thundering body shots that earned him the handle “The Body Snatcher” during his pre-MMA days. “As an amateur in boxing, I won three fights in three days in the provincial boxing tournament by body shots. I think I’ve had 10-12 knockouts as an amateur by body shots, and I won my first pro MMA fight by body shot.
“Any time I hit somebody to the body and I see them take that breath or lose their breath, as weird as it seems or as magical as it is, it makes me stronger. People have seen it in sparring, people have seen it in fights – the more I lay the “body snatch” on somebody, the stronger I get.”
At UFC 165, he’ll be looking to put those skills on full display against Prazeres, a Brazilian veteran who has competed at both middleweight and welterweight in the past, and will make his UFC lightweight debut alongside Ronson in Toronto.
Coming off the first defeat of his career, you can be sure he’ll be looking for redemption, but Ronson has other ideas. As much as he’s impressed with what he’s seen of his opponent in the past, there is only one way the talented Canadian newcomer envisions this fight ending.
“This is the most important fight of my life to date - it’s the UFC, and it’s in my hometown. Everybody wants to get that first win for their first fight in the UFC, and I’m definitely training my ass off for it
““His strengths are wrestling and grappling, and he’s super-strong,” offers Ronson in assessment of Prazeres. “I’ve seen him do some things where I have been in those situations – and I’ve been told I’m pretty strong for a ’55 – and I was like “holy moley,” and he did this at 170 and 185.
“He’s got a slow, crushing jiu-jitsu game, so obviously I don’t want this guy getting a hold of me on the ground. I feel pretty good in the clinch with how strong my hips are – being able to bump and move – and with my reach and speed, I’m just going to smash this guy’s face.”