Yesterday (August 30, 2013), I drove down to the Alliance Training Center in Chula Vista, California, to sit in on their pro fighter sparring session. It's the second time that I've been to Alliance, but the first where I've had the opportunity to watch some of the best fighters in the world train.
Usually gyms are secretive about who they allow in the gyms for sparring as there are a lot of cases of training partners and game plans getting leaked to opponents, so to be allowed the chance to watch some of the best fighters in the world workout, it's a real treat.
The first thing that I noticed was that a local boxing gym brought down some professional boxers to work out with the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters at Alliance. One of the more aggressive sparring sessions was between Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight, Ross Pearson, and one of those boxers.
Pearson had just flown in from England on Wednesday night, and was looking to force his body over a very serious case of jetlag. For 10 minutes, he threw heavy shots at his training partner, all while slipping most punches and avoiding damage. He even landed a clean body shot that dropped the boxer to a knee.
After time was called and practice was over, I had the opportunity to speak with Pearson about training and fighting in front of the UK crowd at UFC on FS 1: Bisping vs Munoz.
"It actually wasn't my first day of training. It was my first sparring session. I feel good man. My body is working real well and I've put some small injuries right. Did two months rehabilitation on my body and not a lot of fight training, just got my body back to working for me," he said. "Get it nice and healthy. Had a few knee problems and shoulder problems. I sorted those out and I'm feeling fit, strong, and healthy."
Those knee problems flared up following his dominant TKO win over Ryan Couture at UFC on Fuel TV: Mousasi vs Latifi in Stockholm, Sweden in April. For five months, he's sat on the sidelines, trying to put his body back together. It's stressful for an athlete who has been able to fight multiple times a year in his career.
He explained the rehabilitation process to me and how he actually enjoys it more than fight camps. He actually described fight camp as "going to jail."
"Camp training for fights? I call that going to jail. It's living the life of the fight, you know? I live, breath the fight. That's all we do every day, constant grind. Constant struggle. You've gotta break your body to get your body ready for such a high level competition of fighting, you know? It's a grind, it's a lot of hard work."
He continued, "whereas, the rehabilitation phase is for me, it's a lot more enjoyable type of training. Your body doesn't get beat up, it's not taxing. You're rehabilitating your body. You're letting your body go through a recovery stage. That's where I'm at now. I'm at the start of camp and full of energy. I'm big, heavy, strong. I'm putting the rounds in. I've got energy, you know? I feel great right now."
His UFC career could best be described as one of peaks and valleys. At one point he looked to be working his way into the top 10 of the lightweight division, and the next he's dropping a split decision to Edson Barboza. That loss actually made him reevaluate his place in the UFC and put in his mind to drop down to featherweight.
Unfortunately, his time in the UFC's featherweight division was just as tumultuous. Where he thought he'd have a size and striking advantage over the competition, the cuts actually took their toll on his body and started to screw up with not just his speed, but also his skill set.
"I tried 145. I thought it was going to be a good move for me. I thought that my style of fighting would be a problem for the featherweight division, but when I come to actually doing it, my style was the complete opposite for that weight. It was just too much weight to maintain that low."
He added, "it was wearing down on my body and affecting my hormones. It just wore my body out and I didn't enjoy it. It wasn't me. I went 1-1 in the UFC. I tried it and I didn't feel good. Went back to 155 and I'm loving every minute of fighting again."
The sparring session marked the beginning of fight camp for Pearson. He's currently tabbed to fight Melvin Guillard in October at the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester, England, his first fight in the UK since 2009's UFC 105.
During his tenure with the UFC, he's had the opportunity to fight all over the world, including Australia, Brazil, and Sweden. But he misses the atmosphere of being able to walk through the tunnel in front of the rowdy UK fans. Just something about fighting in front of his countrymen allows him to rise to the occasion.
"I've been thinking about this quite a lot. Throughout my career, I've loved traveling and fighting for the UFC all over the world. It's been amazing to see some spectacular sites. I met my girlfriend from fighting for the UFC so I can't thank them enough for taking us all over the world," he said.
"But I miss the feeling of coming down in my hometown in front of my friends. These people that have followed me around England, before I was in the UFC or a name, I had a small group of people that was my fanbase. They haven't been able to see me fight for three or four years. Now I just want to go back and fight for them. I know you can see it on TV. All my friends have told me how much I've improved. But they're not seeing it live and it's a lot different than what you see on TV."