There are a lot of successful MMA fighters out there, whose careers just take a little bit longer to get going before they finally get over the hump and become top contenders. Sometimes, they even become unbeatable champions.
There are also fighters in the sport who, as talented as they may appear, can’t get over the hump. This eventually brings them to a crossroads in their careers where they have to decide what changes to make after so many years of consistency have proved fruitless.
Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson is one fighter who falls into this latter category.
Pearson’s entrance into the world’s biggest MMA organization started seven years ago on The Ultimate Fighter, but he has remained stagnant ever since, even after winning the TUF reality show and joining one of the best camps in the country, Alliance MMA.
Somehow, Pearson, who’s fought in two extremely tough divisions, is still hanging around right in the thick of his prime. However, he is fighting for scraps and trying to get the big win that will catapult him to true contendership.
Pearson made his initial entrance into the UFC when he was on the cast of the ninth season of TUF as a representative of Team United Kingdom under longtime UFC fighter Michael Bisping, who now reigns over the UFC’s middleweight division. Pearson ended up winning the competition by defeating his UK teammate Andre Winner via unanimous decision.
The Brit followed up his TUF run by amassing a solid UFC record of 7-3 while defeating the likes of Aaron Riley, Dennis Siver, Spencer Fisher and Ryan Couture. By mid-2013, Pearson, who turned 29 that year, appeared to have an excellent career ahead of him.
That’s when things started to take a turn for the terribly unlucky. Since October 2013, Pearson has compiled an extremely lackluster — some might say underachieving — 4-5 (1) record in his last 10 fights. Over 20 total UFC fights, it has basically been a tale of two careers for Pearson.
The first half, very impressive. The second half, not so much.
That’s not to say Pearson has put on terrible fights and has simply been outclassed. He has just come up short when he’s expected to have a big fight on the big stage. Pearson has also been robbed of a victory. He was the victim of probably one of the most atrocious judging decisions in the UFC (and maybe MMA) history in his June 2014 bout against Diego Sanchez. Pearson completely out-struck and dominated his fellow TUF alum, but ended up getting the loss anyway.
Nevertheless, in these last 10 fights, Pearson has been up and down, alternating wins and losses while not being able to start any kind of streak. His most recent defeat against UFC newcomer and former Bellator champion Will Brooks at UFC 200 wasn’t much help, either. The fight was very competitive, a back-and-forth battle, but Brooks pulled off the win in his UFC debut, receiving the nod on all the judges’ scorecards.
Pearson’s loss to Brooks loss spelled disappointment for the tough Brit. He dropped to under .500 in his last 10 bouts, but still maintains a decent record of 11-8 (1) under the UFC banner. The question now for Pearson focuses on what he must do to turn his career around and get the best out of what he has left.
Pearson is set to turn 32 later this year. The time is now for Pearson, but it’s hard to say what his next step should be.
Does he need to change camps? Should he come up with a new strategy in his fights? Should Pearson, who has fought as a lightweight and a featherweight inside the Octagon, try his hand at competing as a welterweight?
Maybe he just needs to completely reset and do things differently. Maybe he should go with what gave him success earlier in his career.
Of course, as we all know, the fight game has changed. It’s not the same anymore. There are plenty of talented fighters coming out of the woodwork. Pearson isn’t really known for being well rounded. He’s an excellent striker with great knockout power and technique, but he doesn’t utilize much of a ground game and seems to rely on grappling only when he needs it in order to survive. While he will wrestle and grapple with his opponent, it’s not a dimension of his game that other fighters have to fear, which is why it’s not a great alternative for Pearson to fall back on.
Pearson also has a knack for letting his fights go to a decision too often. More than half of his fights have gone the distance, including his last five. His record in those fights is 6-5.
There’s a reason why Pearson is experiencing this level of inconsistency. He needs to add more tools to his game and make himself more of a diverse threat, instead of someone who can just knock out guys or put on a show for the fans. The Brit needs wins, and he needs them as soon as possible. MMA is a young man’s game. Pearson is hardly a youngster anymore. Unless he has a lot of motivation to work his butt off into his mid-30s, there isn’t going to be any reason to keep fighting.
Pearson has a great camp in San Diego. He trains alongside fighters like Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Jeremy Stephens, Michael Chandler, Alexander Gustafsson and Cat Zingano. To think he hasn’t used the knowledge of these talented fighters is unlikely, especially with a fantastic coach like Eric del Fierro in his corner giving him great advice and pinpoint strategy. Obviously, he’s still not doing something right, though.
Pearson is at a crossroads in his career right now. He’s 20 fights into his UFC tenure, with 31 total fights on his record, and he’s got all the experience he needs. He has the accolades to prove it, too. Now is the time for Pearson to put these things together and make something out of, at least, the next five years of his career, if not longer.
Fittingly enough, maybe Pearson can get some friendly advice from his fellow UK countryman and former TUF coach, the aforementioned Bisping, who just recently accomplished his lifelong dream of winning a UFC title. It only took Bisping 10 years, too — ever since his own entrance into the organization via The Ultimate Fighter.
Pearson can easily get some guidance from his fellow Brit, who has gone through the same kind of ups and downs in his own long career and fell short when he was expected to come up big. Through all of his hardships, Bisping kept pushing forward anyway. Then, finally, he won a UFC title — and on two weeks’ notice, no less. One could say that’s a pretty amazing turn of events that anybody is capable of doing.
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