Since news of Alexander Gustafsson's fight-jeopardizing laceration surfaced on Easter Sunday, the whole UFC on FUEL 9 event has been put into a state of limbo. Like most of the sport's observers, Ross Pearson can do little more than sit around and hope that Saturday night's card takes place as scheduled. Of course, he has a little bit more invested into it than most. An eight-week training camp, weight-cutting and travel are already sunken costs for the UFC lightweight.
Pearson and opponent Ryan Couture are set to be the night's co-headliner, and the Brit has volunteered to step into the main-event slot, even if he knows that the Swedish fans that make up the bulk of the Ericsson Globe Arena crowd in Stockholm will be disappointed by any version of the show that does not feature local product Gustafsson. That's despite the fact that Pearson feels primed to showcase his skills in a matchup that many feel is tailored to his favor.
"I definitely feel he's going to come in prepared, I definitely think it's going to be the best Ryan Couture we've seen, but no, I don't think he’s on my level," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I don't think he’s fought the level of competition I've fought. I don't think he's been fighting UFC-caliber guys forever, really, so no, I don't think he’s on my level. If things go to plan he won't last very long in there with me.
"I'm not taking him lightly," he continued. "I'm not overlooking anything. I'm preparing for a tough fight. I know Ryan's durable. I know Ryan can take a shot, and I know Ryan's game. So he brings some threats to the table. I just got to be on my A-game, sharp, strong. Knowing how powerful I hit and how fit and strong I am and letting him know how much I want to fight. I've got to own this fight and I've got to perform well, show him what the UFC is all about."
Pearson recently had his own lesson to learn, stemming from his move down to 145 pounds. At the time he made the move, having lost two of three at 155, it seemed like the right call in rejuvenating his career. But he only fought twice in the weight class, and hated nearly every second of it. In fact, he said it made fall out of love with the sport.
The experiment unceremoniously ended at the hands of Cub Swanson, who finished Pearson with strikes last June.
Pearson credits Swanson for the win, saying he was the better man who won fair and square, but feels the cut depleted his ability to take strikes. Between the calorie restriction needed to make the featherweight limit, his unwillingness to discard his weight-training regimen and the decreased capacity to withstand strikes, Pearson made up his mind that lightweight was the best place for him.
"I knew at 145 I couldn't be the best Ross Pearson," he said. "I'm much happier at 155. My weight and diet, everything's perfect. I train right up to the fight. I could lift pre-camp, and being healthy, it's just a much more natural weight for me. I'll be turning up to fights 100 percent."
He showed that in his first fight back in the division, battering George Sotiropoulos and knocking him down twice en route to a third-round TKO.
Apparently, Pearson wasn't even the first member of his camp to knock out Sotiropoulos. According to him, during taping of TUF: The Smashes, some ongoing tension between coaches on the U.K. and Australian teams led to a situation where Aussie coach Sotiropoulos sucker-punched UK boxing coach Erin Beach from behind. According to Pearson, Beach fought back and ended up knocking Sotiropoulos out.
"Obviously the UFC wasn’t happy about what happened," he said. "It was just ridiculous really, George doing that and not even fighting him like a man, cheap-shotting him when he wasn't even looking. When I said all the things I said on the show, I wasn't lying. I did lose all respect for George. I still don't respect him now."
With that part of his life in the rearview mirror, Pearson continues to look ahead. While he believes himself to be the superior fighter over Couture, he credits Couture's ability to scramble and grind as dangerous fight trends that will require his constant attention. But the rest of it, the fight skills and power, they bend his way. As long as the show goes on, he plans on putting on a show.
"I'm just not a British banger anymore. I'm a full mixed martial artist," he said. "If he wants to fight on the floor, we'll fight on the floor. Wherever he thinks he’s going to take the fight, he’s going to be wrong because I’m winning there. I'm just going to take the fight away from him, beat him everywhere. I believe I’ve got the power in my hands, my feet, my knees, my elbows to finish anyone in this division. If I land that shot, I’m know I'm going to finish Ryan."