Ross Pearson has shed 10 pounds in hopes of finding bigger fights and greater opportunities in the featherweight division.
The 27-year-old Sunderland, England native is just 1-2 in his last three fights, most recently earning Fight of the Night honors while losing a split decision to Edson Barboza at UFC 134. With the list of contenders in the UFC lightweight division growing with each passing event, Pearson knows opportunities are limited in the 155-pound weight class.
That’s why he’s made the decision to test the waters at featherweight from here on out.
"You hear Dana saying all the time that these athletes in the sport have got a small window of opportunity, and I just feel like I fit in well in the 145-pound division," explained Pearson when we spoke last week after the former winner of "The Ultimate Fighter" finished his afternoon training session at Alliance MMA in San Diego.
"I see myself shooting straight into the top 10 — if not the top five — of the division, and pushing for a title shot right away. I feel like I’m 27 years old now, and I’m wanting big fights, big opportunities. I’m not in this sport because I just want to fight this guy, fight that guy; I want to be the best."
Making the move down in weight from the crowded ranks of the 155-pound division is something a number of fighters have done over the last year, including recent title challenger Kenny Florian, and UFC 137 combatants Tyson Griffin and Bart Palaszewski.
Though the depth in the featherweight class is increasing, the path to the top of the division is far less congested than it is at lightweight. While it could take four or five wins to get mentioned as a contender in the 155-pound set, Pearson knows that two or three impressive performances could move him to the head of the line in his new division.
"I’m getting to the age in my career where my body is performing its best — I’m getting to my physical peak — and I want to make a run for a title shot. I just see that the (featherweight) division would be the fastest way to getting to a title shot."
He pondered the idea of dropping down in weight over Twitter following the fight with Barboza, and quickly decided that was the direction he wanted to take in his career. Now six weeks removed from UFC 134, Pearson is pleased with the results he’s seen thus far as he transforms himself from a lightweight to a featherweight.
"My body is actually floating around 165 right now, so I’ve come down at least 10 pounds naturally, and my body feels good. My body is adapting well to it. When I fight at ’55, I normally walk around at ’75, and not that I feel slow or sluggish, but I feel the excess weight that I’m carrying. Now that I’m walking at ’65, I feel fast, man. I feel good."
Pearson is going about things the right way, taking the weight off by changing up his strength and conditioning routine, and paying greater attention to what he eats and when.
"I’ve definitely cleaned everything up," Pearson admitted with a laugh. "I’m eating my carbs at the right time, I’m eating the right amount of protein. I’ve got a good dietician out here at Alliance, Eric Uresk. He’s a fighter also, and he’s making our meals for us, and calorie counting for us and everything.
"I also haven’t done a strength period. Before, after a fight, I would go through a heavy session, probably six weeks of solid lifting. Just the basic movements — a squat, a push, a pull — I would gain weight that way, and I’ve totally left that out now, and I’ve concentrated more on the conditioning, and my weight seems to be coming down good."
Dropping down in weight is the latest shift in what has been a transitional year for Season 9’s lightweight competition on "The Ultimate Fighter."
A longtime member of Team Rough House alongside TUF 9 teammate Andre Winner, Paul Daley and Dan Hardy, Pearson began training at Alliance MMA in San Diego earlier this year. While he still makes trips across the Atlantic, most of his work is done on the West Coast, and he’s more than happy with the results he’s seen thus far.
"The thing that I’ve seen improve the most is being able to do what I want to do in a fight," Pearson said. "Now that I’m coming out here, learning wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and the transitions between all the martial arts, now I’ve been able to get into the positions where I want to hold the fight.
"I come from a boxing, striking background, and when a guy’s wanting to wrestle with you, it’s hard to strike. Now I’m learning defensive and offensive wrestling where I can keep the fight where I want the fight, and sparring, I’m seeing the fight taking place where I want to put the fight.
"Now that I’m out here at Alliance, I have a family and a team behind me. I’ve got great coaches, great training partners, and I’m feeling that I’ve got an army behind me. I’m loving it out here, and I’m a totally different fighter now that I’ve got a great team behind me."
Pearson speaks glowingly of the impact working with coaches Eric Del Fiero and Adrian Melendez, as well fighters like Brandon Vera, Phil Davis and Dominick Cruz has done for his confidence and abilities.
"I believe in my coaches, I believe in my team, and I believe that I can get prepared for any opponent out there," Person said. "I believe I can come in and show these guys what I can do, and that I can be a force in whatever weight division I fight in because of the team behind me."
He even has a date in mind for making his featherweight debut.
"I’ve let the UFC know that I would like to fight New Year’s Eve in Vegas at 145, but as of right now, I haven’t heard anything back in terms of an opponent," he said. "That’s when I’d be prepared and ready to go, and I’d have a full, solid camp behind me."
There is no telling when a fighter’s window of opportunity will close. For some it inches down slowly over time, while it slams shut for others. Pearson doesn’t want to experience either, at least not without taking a run at fulfilling his championship dreams first.
"I’m not dropping down to 145 because I don’t think I can make a run at 155; I’m dropping down to ’45 because of the window of opportunity, and I think I will be faster making a run for the title at ’45."