It took only 15 seconds for Karl Roberson to unleash the elbows that stopped Ryan Spann and earned the New Jersey native a UFC contract on the July 25 edition of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
But before we get into that, let’s first go back to August 2015, when Roberson accepted a fight with kickboxing legend Jerome Le Banner…in his first pro kickboxing bout.
“He’s a legend,” Roberson said. “How many times in your life do you get to fight someone that big and that established? And in Saint Tropez, France? That was too much of an opportunity to pass up.”
It was a gutsy move for a kid making his debut after only a couple amateur bouts, but he didn’t hesitate either.
“No, not at all,” he laughs. “It was, ‘So when are we gonna do this?’”
And once the bell rang, it wasn’t a one-sided blowout for Le Banner. Instead, the fight went the distance, with Roberson scoring two knockdowns (only one was ruled official) before losing a controversial decision.
“When the bell rang, it was like, ‘Oh, this is real,’” he recalled. “‘But I’m already in here now, I’ve got to get this done.’ So being able to stand in the ring with that guy, it opened my eyes that I could really do this. I’m built for this.”
Just two months before, Roberson made his pro MMA debut, but after compiling two wins, he took the LeBanner fight and then focused on kickboxing for a while. In 2017, he returned to the cage, and following a pair of finishes that took a combined 2:51, the buzz was that the UFC was just a couple wins away.
“I had a lot of people come up and tell me that I just needed to win a couple more fights and start knocking people out and start making more noise,” Roberson said. “But it was really hard for me to get a fight. It’s such a small community that everybody knows everybody and nobody on the east coast wanted to fight me. But with my work ethic and everyone around me, I knew it was gonna come soon.”
“Everyone” around him is comprised of the gang of killers that make South Jersey their home, including Frankie Edgar and Corey Anderson. Watching and working with fighters that have already established themselves in the Octagon has kept Roberson sharp.
“Learning from them is like watching a masterpiece because these guys have been there for so long, especially Frankie,” Roberson said. “He’s had his ups, his downs, injuries, and to watch him come back from that and pick his brain about it, it gets me mentally ready. It’s the same thing with Corey Anderson – the work ethic, the mental game. And the mental game is 90 percent of this. When you get to the UFC, everybody’s physically there; it’s the mental game that makes the difference.”
On Nov. 11, he’ll get to test out his mental and physical game at the highest level of the sport when he faces England’s Darren Stewart. But to get to that point, he had to win on DWTNCS, and he didn’t take long to do it, with his elbows making it a short night for Spann. For someone already used to having difficulty getting fights, this wasn’t going to help.
“In the fight world, I’m a fighter and I want to be the best in the world,” he said. “So if you’re asking to fight me, in my mind, you think you can beat me and I have to prove you wrong. Apparently, not everybody thinks that way.”
Luckily for Roberson, Stewart is of a similar mindset, which means there should be some fireworks in Virginia this fall.
“This is fun to me,” said the 26-year-old, who will be returning to middleweight for his UFC run. “I love people who will stand and bang, and 90 percent of the people who say they will don’t. But him (Stewart), I watched his fights, I see the camp he comes from, and he’s a fighter, so he’s gonna come at me, I’m gonna come at him, and the best man will come out on top.”
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