The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season nine added a little international flavor with its "US vs. UK" format, featuring top middleweight contender Dan Henderson leading a stateside team against Coach Michael Bisping and his British squad.
On April 1, 2009, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans would get their first look at Ross Pearson.
The British bulldog had bullied his way into the house by compiling an 8-3 record on the European circuit, earning his place on the Spike TV reality show with a second-round destruction of A.J. Wenn. The victory over his British brethren advanced him to an elimination bout opposite Richie Whitson, who was easily cast aside in the first round by way of submission.
Jason Dent would be unable to keep "The Real Deal" out of the finals.
That's where Pearson would come into TUF 9 live finale on June 20, 2009, which emanated from the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a +220 underdog against fellow finalist Andre Winner. The Team Rough House product was the only thing standing between him and a "six-figure contract."
Here's how it all went down.
A touch of gloves gets things started and Winner opens with a jab downstairs. Pearson avoids and returns fire with a flurry that goes one for four. Each fighter uncorks a leg kick and Pearson goes rock 'em, sock 'em robot. Winner is having none of it and drives his foe to the fence where a reciprocal mugging unfolds.
Winner lands an elbow but a knee connects below the equator. "Pearson takes a knee to the balls and he needs a moment," says our own Druby Sunshine. When action resumes, uppercuts are gifted and re-gifted, but Winner looks to be the busier fighter as time expires and steals the frame.
Round two opens with Pearson on the attack, landing an outside leg kick and following up with a one-two combination that sends Winner in reverse. The odds-on favorite hurriedly closes the gap and ties him up, forcing his opponent into the cage.
Pearson drops for a single-leg takedown but Winner defends and roasts the ribs of his attacker. He follows up with knees but "The Real Deal" stuns him with an uppercut. Winner responds with an elbow of his own and narrowly defends a head kick at the break.
He charges forward but Pearson times him and bops him with a counter right hook and they embrace, once again finding the wall. Winner eating knees as the seconds tick away and he tries to sneak into a 2-0 lead with a buzzer-beater that finds the body.
It's still anybody's ballgame, but Pearson appears to have evened the score.
This time it's Winner who comes out the aggressor as the rivals have just five minutes to secure their place in the annals of TUFdom. A left hook finds its mark and Pearson takes it to the fence as each combatant struggles for position. Winner gives -- and receives -- a knee and a hook. He fights to stay on his feet when Pearson changes levels and tries to go south.
Less than two minutes to go.
They reset and trade leather in the center of the cage. Pearson seems to be getting the better of the exchanges and Winner starts to fade before taking it back to the wall to avoid further damage. Pearson briefly looks up at the clock and fires off a final knee at the horn.
Judges Nelson Hamilton, Tony Weeks and Glenn Trowbridge all score the bout 29-28 in favor of the winner and new TUF champ, Ross Pearson.
While Pearson has struggled in recent fights, he now has the opportunity to reestablish himself in the lightweight division by winning another TUF live finale -- this time as coach -- against George Sotiropoulos in the main event of UFC on FX 6 this Friday night (Dec. 14, 2012) from the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Queensland, Australia.
Once again, he'll be underdog.