GOLD COAST, Australia — A van pulled up to Boonchu Gym , the home of nine-time Muay Thai world champion John Wayne Parr Thursday as a quartet of British fighters headed by UFC lightweight Ross Pearson walk into the gym as dozens of onlookers applauded.
The usually chipper Pearson wasn’t there to play games. He had his game face on as he jumped rope for 20 minutes for a warm-up before getting into the circular cage with The Ultimate Fighter cast-mate from season nine Dean Amasinger, who had served as an assistant coach to Pearson on the past season of The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes.
Watch UFC on Sportsnet: Sotiropoulos vs. Pearson on Friday from 6-11 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE.
I stood along the side of the cage watching Pearson fight for takedowns on his fellow countryman. Despite being a light session as he was a little over 48 hours away from stepping foot inside the Octagon he remained stone-faced with a fiery look in his eyes, an image that really stuck with me.
When he enters the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, likely to a chorus of boos from the ruckus Queensland crowd, the former featherweight fighter has a real chance to spoil the homecoming for Sotiropoulos, who hasn’t won a fight on home soil since 2010.
Sotiropoulos and Pearson were both launched into the mainstream with the backing of The Ultimate Fighter with the Aussie making it to the sixth season’s semi-finals in 2007 and the Brit going the whole way in 2009’s Season 9 to earn his six-figure deal with the top-ranked MMA organization.
Now as the duo enter their first event as headliners inside the UFC both have been plagued with inconsistency with the Geelong-born Sotiropoulos winless in over two years while Pearson has dropped three of his past five outings.
Pearson, the bricklayer-turned-cage-fighter, has taken a solid step in the right direction in recent times linking arms with Eric Del Fiero’s Alliance MMA that features high-level talents like UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, Bellator lightweight kingpin Michael Chandler and contenders like Alexander Gustafsson and Phil Davis.
Alliance MMA has really grown into one of the top camps over the past few years and has a plethora of talented fighters and coaches that wouldn’t be at his disposal in his home country.
“I love it there (at Alliance MMA), I fit right in with the team and they’re like family,” Pearson told Sportsnet.ca. “I have a lot of good fighters to train with there and they have opened the door and made me feel right at home.”
TUF: The Smashes, the Australia-versus-UK instalment of the hit reality series, was a smashing success and a large reason for that has been for the war of words and pranks between both coaches, many of which were too outrageous to make it to the tubes, according to UFC president Dana White.
“Yes, we didn’t get on,” Pearson said with a laugh. “I showed him respect and he didn’t give it back and it grew from there on the reality show. I just want to fight him now.”
When oddsmakers, betters, fans and media aficionados break down this fight, most consider it a clash of styles and the TUF Season 9 champ believes he has the winning recipe.
“He’s got really good jiu-jitsu, good ground control, grappling is where he’s comfortable and where he feels safe. My standup is better and I attack with more angles and I don’t think he’s ready for that,” the Brit said.
Sotiropoulos and Pearson settle the score Saturday afternoon in this neck of the woods but those in Canada can catch the action live Friday night due to the time zone difference.
Justin Faux is an Australia-based writer for MMAsucka.com. He is covering the UFC event in Gold Coast this week for Sportsnet.ca. Follow him on Twitter @justinfauxmma.