Jesse Ronson’s first UFC win was seven years in the making – and a last-second hiccup almost cost him another opportunity.
Appearing on the What the Heck, Ronson said his journey to his first UFC victory was almost stopped by a positive COVID-19 test result on the morning of UFC on ESPN 14. Less than three hours before the event, he was cleared when it was determined to be a false positive.
“At seven in the morning [on Saturday], I got a phone call from the UFC saying I tested positive,” Ronson said. “Six people that day had false positives. All of it came back negative, but at seven in the morning they called me and they’re like, ‘You have to stay in your room. We’re sending people up to test you again.’ So 7:30, they came and they tested me, [and at] 3:30 they came back and they tested me twice. They did the nose test, which hurt like hell, and another throat swab. And then finally at 10:30 at night on fight day, they said, ‘Your tests are good and negative, don’t worry, six other people had false positives. They’re all negative, everybody’s good. You’re good to fight now.’
“I’m like, oh great, it’s good to know that I’m good to fight now on fight day an hour and a half before I gotta go down and start warming up and getting my hands wrapped up. I haven’t slept at all because I was super nervous. It was out of my hands, [and] I probably should’ve [slept]. But with the screw-up that happened in 2018 I was like, ‘Just my luck, this would happen to me I would get screwed over the day of the fight.’ Luckily, it all came back and sorted itself out and I was able to go in there, fight, and get that W.”
Stepping in on less than one month’s notice to meet Nicolas Dalby at UFC on ESPN 14, not much was expected of Ronson, a 31-fight veteran who’d already gone 0-3 in his first run with the UFC. He’d almost gotten another shot in December 2018 as a replacement for John Makdessi at UFC 231, but it was ruled he couldn’t safely make the weight cut for that fight on short notice, and he was released a second time.
In his fourth UFC fight, Ronson overwhelmed Dalby, finishing the Dane by rear-naked choke in under three minutes.
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Ronson, 34, first fought for the UFC in 2013. He was one of Canada’s top prospects and made his octagon debut on the strength of eight straight wins. Tough competition awaited Ronson in Kevin Lee, Francisco Trinaldo, and Michel Prazeres, three fighters who are still currently on the UFC roster. He lost to all three by split decision and was subsequently released.
After that, Ronson went 8-5 competing in the U.S., Canada, and Abu Dhabi. It was hardly the kind of resume that would inspire an urgent call from the UFC matchmakers outside of the close call in 2018 that fizzled. But he targeted a bout with prospect Troy Lamson in February, knowing that Lamson was on the UFC’s radar, and after beating Lamson in the first round, he knew he was back in the conversation.
It wasn’t until the COVID-19 scare on fight night that he wondered if the deck was stacked against him.
“It’s like, okay, you can’t just kick me down and keep kicking me when I’m down,” Ronson said. “I’d been consistently tested the whole time so it’s like, ‘You know what, Jesse? This has been a super sweet moment for you, but we need to test you one last time to see if you’ve got the conviction and you can persevere through it,’ and I did.
“It’s not the universe trying to screw me over, but are you really worthy of it? Are you mentally strong enough like you say you are? And 100 percent I was. You suck it up, you go there, and you’ve just got to put it all behind you and I used it. I used all that emotion and all that strain and put it to use on Dalby.”
Ronson was in disbelief when his fight with Dalby was waved off, just as he had been when his manager called him on July 1, Canada Day, to tell him he would be fighting in Abu Dhabi.
When Ronson was informed of the Dalby matchup, he asked if it was a UFC fight. His manager replied, “Who else is putting fights on, ya dumb sh*t?”
In his post-fight interview, Ronson called for lightweight bouts with Luis Pena or Jalin Turner, targeting them for being too tall for the division and joking that they need to be eating more than “ice cubes” and “lettuce.” He’s targeting a return in late October or November so that he can fight. Then, he’ll celebrate his birthday and Christmas in December.
According to Ronson, the one thing he’ll treasure most about his first UFC win was talking to matchmaker Sean Shelby on the flight out of Abu Dhabi and hearing how his performance vindicated both of them.
“The best part of all of that was that a lot of people were giving Sean Shelby sh*t for signing me,” Ronson said. “Like, ‘Why would you sign this guy? He’s 21-10, 34 years old, we’ve got this guy, this guy, and so on and so forth.’
“It felt so good hearing Sean Shelby say, ‘Thank you for that, Jesse, because now there’s a lot of people out there that I can tell to go eat sh*t and to never question my judgment again.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, thank you, sir.’ He’s like, ‘You don’t understand how many people I’ve texted being like, ‘What about that? What did you have to say about my judgment in me signing this guy? Oh yeah, that’s right, shut the hell up. He just beat this guy a weight class up, first-round submission, and got a bonus.’ It was so good to hear that.”