Brian Ebersole began wrestling at a very early age, following in a family tradition, and competed all the way through his school and university days. In many ways, he has the typical background of an American mixed martial artist, but there is nothing conventional about the 32-year-old’s 13-year fighting career.
A veteran of the Midwest scene, Ebersole took nine fights in 2001 and 15 more in 2002. His 67 bouts make him comfortably the most seasoned fighter on the UFC roster in terms of cage time, but he is also one of the most traveled.
Currently based in Phuket, Thailand, where he runs the MMA program at Tiger Muay Thai alongside Roger Huerta, he also spent four years living and fighting in Australia and took advantage of a recent yearlong layoff from the UFC to go backpacking in India.
Ebersole hasn’t stepped inside the Octagon since July of last year when he dropped a split decision to James Head at UFC 149, and says he has been using the time to rest and recover after fighting twice in the space of just four weeks.
“I was injured. I needed to really rest up and allow my anatomy to enjoy some ‘softness training.’ Soft pillows, couches and soft workouts.”
That loss snapped an 11-fight winning streak and put paid to Ebersole’s ambitions of a title shot, at least for the time being. Taking on Head immediately after a decision win over TJ Waldburger was a risk that, unfortunately for the eccentric veteran, did not pay off.
“I took a gamble in chasing UFC 149 right after a hard-fought win just weeks earlier and I lost the gamble, barely. I’m still scratching my head on the decision, but there’s no doubting that my position today is not as comfortable as it was prior to UFC 149,” he said.
Fighters on the UFC roster are well compensated by industry standards, but are lucky to be offered four fights in a calendar year. In this context, Ebersole’s decision to fight twice in such quick succession raised a few eyebrows, but he puts this down to his wrestling background and, if it was a mistake, it’s one he wouldn’t hesitate to repeat.
“I would do it again, because that’s just me. Even in non-ideal circumstances, offers to compete are hard to turn down. You’re talking to someone that was conditioned by wrestling 40-plus grappling matches in only a 90-day season. We wrestled often, we practiced intensely, and we wrestled whether we were hurt or not, injured is different than hurt.”
Ebersole will return to action at UFC 167, when he takes on an opponent who is also coming off of a split decision loss in the shape of Rick Story. He has been following the fellow wrestler’s career for a while and believes he will be in for a tough test on Nov. 16 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“Story’s used his skillset to defeat three very high-profile welterweights in Jonny Hendricks, Thiago Alves, and Jake Ellenberger. That’s an impressive list, but he’s also had losses with that same skillet and was proven to be human versus Mike Pyle. We’ll both be looking to rebound, so I think he’s dangerous right now, coming off of a decision loss.”
He will be looking to prove that his recent loss to Head was merely an aberration and start working his way back into title contention with a win at UFC 167, while, with four losses in his last six fights, his opponent could well be fighting for his UFC future. It makes the match-up a crucial moment in the careers of both men and Ebersole says he is intrigued to see what happens when he steps inside the Octagon with Story.
“We’re two different animals, though we both have a wrestling background. If the match comes down to a game of wits, I guess we’ll all see how our styles match up. How do I break him down? I may not know until it happens, but I certainly have to avoid being clobbered in the head with a closed fist whilst I work on the problem.”
Ebersole is adamant that the split decision verdict that he found himself on the wrong side of against Head was the wrong one and says this isn’t the first time in his career he has been harshly dealt with by the judges.
“I didn’t lose to James Head. Do I feel like I outscored him with combat effectiveness? Yes, but not by a huge margin per five-minute round. I’ve suffered some split decisions, I’ll tell you. People say I have 15 losses; I think I have more like 10,” he said.
Three of Ebersole’s most recent defeats have come by way of either a split decision or a majority decision, but while the latest loss still rankles, he will be the first to admit that he still had a long way to go before securing a shot at reigning 170-pound UFC champ Georges St-Pierre.
“There wasn’t much distance left in my run toward the title, but there were some massive hills to climb. So yes, I was close, yet so far away. There’s no breezing up Mount Ellenberger or Mount Hendricks, and climbing over Condit would have been a giant effort.”
As Ebersole approaches his seventieth MMA fight, he has more experience to rely on than any other UFC welterweight, but this must have come at the cost of some wear and tear. I wonder whether he feels he has reached his prime, but the 32-year-old feels he still has plenty to offer.
“There will be a day when I’m not as fast. I don’t know when it will come, but I may just be a more dangerous adversary when that day comes. I am learning each day with regards to technique and hopefully I can hold my youth and athleticism to complement my combative skillset for a fair amount of time.”
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter)