by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com
Winning a series of The Ultimate Fighter is no easy feat, especially when you consider that the next step is a hard fight straight out of the blocks, and if you do well, exponentially harder fights thereafter – just ask any of the guys who have won the show. In Ross Pearson’s case, there is no break from tradition as he prepares to square off against seasoned veteran Aaron Riley (28-11-1).

“I am really excited as I think his style plays into my style very well – we’re a good match-up. I think it’s going to be an awesome fight,” he exclaims enthusiastically, but tempers his excitement with an acknowledgment of his opponent’s background. “Aaron has been around a lot longer and done a lot of thing, so I am expecting the hardest fight of my life and the best Aaron Riley there has ever been.”

A win over Riley will put him right in the thick of things at the 155-pound division, which is exactly where Pearson (9-3-0) wants to be, slugging it out, earning his way to a title shot at a much later date. “I am a tough competitor and it’s my job to prove why I am here. There are a lot of tough guys in the UFC at the moment, everyone on their day is capable of beating you up and has 15 minutes to do it.

“I never, ever, take a fighter lightly. I have trained as if this is the toughest fight of my life and am prepared for everything.”

Training for the fighter has been grueling, both physically and mentally, but he has been making subtle adjustments on the way, little things that may seem trivial at first, but overall help to create a much more focused cage craft under pressure.

“There are no drastic changes, but I went back to basics on a lot of things to make them more specific. Key to it all has been my footwork, I think that poor footwork has hindered me in the past as I wasn’t able to get the angles I wanted or setup the positions I wanted to land the big shots.

“I have power in both hands which isn’t a big feature at 155 pounds, but I need to land the shots and it all comes from footwork so that has been a big focus. I am confident I can stand with anyone in my division. I trust myself, my coaches, and what I know I can do.”

Being self-critical is a key requirement in anybody looking to have a long-term career in the sport, let alone success at the pinnacle. Yet so many fighters have fallen to the wayside by their own self-imposed limits, by either sticking to what they have always had success with or by failing to take onboard new techniques and training methods.

For Pearson the motivation is to be a well rounded fighter, period.

“I try to train all the time and to improve myself. I want to be a well rounded fighter rather than a specific style of fighter; I don’t want to be one dimensional. The sport is evolving too fast and you can’t afford to tread water,” he offers, acknowledging that the next generation of fighters will come into play with a much wider toolset.

“There’s a kid at our gym who is 17, he fights semi pro and has been training MMA since he was five years old. He is a complete all-round fighter and will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years time. As that happens there will be a big phasing out of one-dimensional guys, and I don’t want to be part of them.”

To stay at the sharp end of the pack, Pearson has to travel for his training. No longer can he expect to cover all of his requirements under one roof. So he works on his grappling at Spartan MMA, strength and conditioning at Fitness 2000, and MMA sparring/striking at Nottingham’s infamous Rough House – home to his last opponent, Andre Winner.

“Fighting Dre was weird and hard to do. We’re really good friends and I had been training with him before we even went on the show.

“We both knew if we got on the show that we may have to fight each other, so we approached the subject in the qualifiers before anything had happened. We laughed and joked about it saying how we were gonna knock the other one out,” he remembers fondly.

When post-fight training resumed things were back to normal, well, sort of…

“The first sparring session back we slugged it out good,” he laughs. “Dre is a top lad, a really good friend, and we just took it as one of them things.”

In closing, it will be a dream come true for the young fighter when he walks the boards and steps into the Octagon in Manchester, England at UFC 105. Vegas was fun, but on his own turf, with thousands of people watching live at home on the TV, is something else, he is looking forward to the support of the crowd and he intends to reward them with a spectacular fight.

“I would like to think that the TUF show proved that the U.K. isn’t by any means behind the U.S. It’s a no-brainer that we have stand-up pedigree, along with the Europeans, but we our wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu is coming along fast. I will prove that if I have to on the night.”