Ross Pearson looking to make star turn in ‘adopted’ home city

Ross Pearson talks to the media at the UFC Fight Night Sydney news conference Wednesday.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

When Ross Pearson is in the Octagon on Friday night, he’ll be announced as fighting out of Sunderland, England. He also spends much of his time in San Diego, Calif., training at Alliance MMA.

But make no mistake: Pearson is the closest thing to an Australian native that the UFC has in a headlining spot at UFC Fight Night on Fight Pass in Sydney.

"I’m pretty much an adopted Aussie," Pearson said.

The rising lightweight, who meets Al Iaquinta in the co-main event, was just in Australia back in September for his wedding to Kristie McKeon, a former UFC Octagon girl who grew up an hour north of Sydney. Pearson and McKeon got married at the Great Barrier Reef and plan to settle in Australia’s largest city when Pearson’s fighting career is over.

"I fell in love with Sydney the very first time I came here," Pearson said. … "It’s a very special place to me. Once I’m done competing, I’ll live here and I’ll bring my kids up as Australian kids."

No, this is not quite Conor McGregor fighting in Dublin, but competing in Sydney has significant meaning to Pearson. If this card wasn’t in Australia, he probably wouldn’t be fighting on it at all. But after knocking out Gray Maynard in August, the Brit made sure UFC brass knew how important it was for him.

It’s a very special place to me. Once I’m done competing, I’ll live here and I’ll bring my kids up as Australian kids.

-Ross Pearson

For Pearson (16-7, 1 NC), the bout against Iaquinta represents a huge opportunity. A win could vault him into the UFC’s official lightweight contender rankings, the first step toward his 2015 game plan of getting a title shot.

"I want to showcase what I can do and make a statement to the UFC and the world that I’m here," Pearson said. "I’m a challenger and I’m coming for the belt."

The first half of this year wasn’t so kind to Pearson. He injured his knee and had to pull out of a March bout with Melvin Guillard in his actual home country of England. Then, in June, he put forth a complete performance against Diego Sanchez, but the judges somehow scored the bout for Sanchez. Pearson rallied a bit by finishing Maynard, a previously ranked fighter, by TKO in the second round.

All in all, Pearson has just one loss since returning to lightweight after a stint at featherweight, and that wasn’t really a loss. If the lightweight rankings went to 20, Pearson would absolutely be on the list.

Pearson, 30, admits fighting Iaquinta is risky, but he isn’t ranked, nor is he as well known as Pearson himself. Pearson compares it to when UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell chose to fight Renato "Babalu" Sobral in 2002 when he had already earned a light heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture.

"I could have sat out and waited for a ranked opponent, but that’s not me," Pearson said.

Besides, this was his best chance at getting on the Sydney card. And he had no intention of passing that up.

"It’s my favorite city in the world," Pearson said. "The weather is beautiful, the girls are beautiful. The sun is always shining. There are nice beaches. What much more could I ask for?"

Well, a win Friday night wouldn’t be so bad.