"When it comes down to it he is just one man against me. They're going to do what I want them to do; it is either my way or no way. That's how it has to be.”
Takedowns and conditioning. It is no secret that those are the undeniable strengths of welterweight grinder Mike Pierce. Also, it is no secret that Pierce uses these two tools in perfect tandem to break down his opposition in the UFC’s Octagon like it is a wrestling mat in a dusty high school gymnasium. Pierce’s methods are simply tried and true. The question now is, at UFC 126 can newcomer Kenny Robertson do anything to stop them?
“They love giving me rookies,” jokes the 30-year old Pierce, who will be facing his third UFC newcomer in just as many fights. “It makes no difference for me. I get to go out there and fight somebody and make good money and show my skills.” For Pierce, the past two fights have been just that: a showcase for his skills.
The Oregon native’s first foray into rookie stomping was on March 21, 2010 against the oversized and heavy-handed Julio Paulino. “It is the part of the game where you know you have mentally broke somebody down and once you can do that, then everything else follows,” bluntly states Pierce, who easily grounded the “Dominican Demon” for the first 10 minutes, leaving a listless Paulino to walk out to start the third round. “At that point all they have is a puncher's chance or, maybe, if you get sloppy and get caught in a submission. But it definitely does something for your own confidence when you see that defeated look on their face and it is just a matter of five minutes before you get your hand raised.”
About five months later, a nearly identical scenario occurred, with Pierce playing the role of the fresh and ready winner of rounds one and two. Meanwhile, Paulino’s role as the tired and nearly beaten opponent was assumed by the Brazilian Amilcar Alves. “I suspected Amilcar Alves was going to be a tough kid because he had a pretty good record and his only loss was against someone he recently beat,” remembers Pierce about Alves, who trains under UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. “My hope going into that fight was to put on a good fight by winning in dominant fashion and hopefully to finish him in the fight, which I was able to do.”
After two rounds, Pierce was winning by “dominant fashion”. It was all Pierce on the offensive with relentless takedowns and top position control. But something happened in the third round that the UFC faithful had yet to see: Pierce win by submission. “I got really excited during the fight and preoccupied with trying to strike him from the top position that it took me until the third round to mentally calm down.” Pierce explains that he was fixated so much on the ever alluring ground and pound that he was missing opportunities to finish the fight in the first two rounds. “Finally, in that third round I calmed down mentally and focused on the submission attempts and got that straight armbar from half guard.”
It wasn’t “Submission of the Night”, but it was good enough for the victory and helped Pierce to a 3-1 record in the UFC. “In my fights prior to the UFC, I had some good TKOs and a knockout,” Pierce continues about his feelings on getting his first win in the UFC by a stoppage. “It was really nice to be able to display my ability to finish like that on the big show.” Now with four UFC fights under his belt, Pierce feels markedly more comfortable each and every time in the cage to go for those finishes. “It was really fun and I hope to continue to finish fights like that, whether it is a TKO, a knockout or another submission. I think I have gotten into the swing of things to make that happen.”
Whether he continues to win by stoppage or not, Mike Pierce’s unanimous decision wins are never a ho-hum decision. “One thing I love about this sport and that I always loved about wrestling, is the ability to physically and mentally break somebody down,” asserts Pierce, who has the previously stated decision win over Paulino and an equally lopsided decision win over UFC/WEC veteran Brock Larson. “I think there is a certain kind of accomplishment you get when you put someone in a position they don't want to be in and completely dominate somebody for the duration of the fight. I think that is commendable and pretty cool.”
The first part of Pierce’s ability to dominate is his takedowns. “I started wrestling at 12 years old at Peninsula Wrestling Club in North Portland under coach Roy Pittman,” proudly declares Pierce about this prestigious Oregon wrestling club, which has produced talent at both the Olympic and international levels. Pierce shared those same mats with a familiar UFC name, and grew-up learning the art of the takedown alongside UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen. Pierce continues to train with Sonnen to this day at Team Quest. “Everyone was wondering whether or not Chael could take down a guy like Anderson Silva and he showed yes he could. Those guys who are coming out of that club, if there is one thing we know it is how to take people to the ground.”
The second part of Pierce’s ability to dominate is his never-ending gas tank. “My main conditioning coach is Phil Claud,” states Pierce who trains with the renowned former Olympic cyclist coach at the Sports Lab facility in Portland. “He gets me in amazing shape by putting me through hell and torture four days a week.” That gas tank Claud builds for Pierce in those torturous sessions is the key to his never-relenting game. Once the bell rings, Pierce is all work for the entirety of the fight, pushing the action and putting pressure on his opponent. Whether that opponent is a first timer or the #2 ranked welterweight in the world, Jon Fitch, who is Pierce’s only loss in the UFC.
“That conditioning is applicable to everything in MMA. For wrestling, for boxing, for Muay Thai, for Jiu-Jitsu - it is the conditioning of who wants it more that really determines the outcome. I think that is my secret weapon. I am really well skilled in all the disciplines, but when it comes down to it, it matters who wants it more mentally and who has the conditioning to do it. In fights it matters who has the gas tank to push fights and force their will and I have the conditioning program to do that.”
The next man to test Pierce’s will is submission specialist Kenny Robertson. On February 5th in Las Vegas at UFC 126, Robertson better be ready for a rough and ugly start to his UFC career. “If he has watched any video on me then I'm sure he has a little bit of an idea, but once that door closes in the Octagon he will not be ready for what he just got himself into,” remarks Pierce, who notes that he is a lot more than what appears on videotape or even in the “Tale of the Tape”. “I don't think people know how big of a 170 pounder I am. I am stepping into that Octagon most times at 190 pounds. After doing a body fat test not too long ago, I weighed in at 189 pounds and I was only 8.9% body fat, which leaves me at 172ish pounds of lean muscle mass.”
As for Pierce, he is ready for Robertson and all future opponents. “I watch video on these guys, but when it comes down to it, they are fighting me,” affirms Pierce, making it clear that he is walking into the cage to force his will and his gameplan of takedowns and cardio regardless of who stands across from him. “I don't care what previous records or belts they have had or what gym he trains out of or how many knockouts he has, when it comes down to it he is just one man against me. They're going to do what I want them to do; it is either my way or no way. That's how it has to be.”
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