On April 6, 2013, Ross Pearson will take on Ryan Couture at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in his second consecutive bout at lightweight. After winning the ninth season of the Ultimate Fighter against Andre Winner, Pearson has had largely unsuccessful stints at both lightweight and featherweight. As with many fighters in MMA, Pearson looked towards a weight-cut to solve jump-start his UFC career after losing two out of three bouts at lightweight. However, his problem wasn’t that he was too small. Pearson’s problem was he couldn’t defend the takedown. Until he can shore up his defensive wrestling deficiencies, he is going to struggle to put together win streaks in the UFC. Both the lightweight and featherweight divisions are full of guys who can hold Pearson down and beat him up.
But it’s not just the lightweight and featherweight divisions that are full of wrestlers, it’s every division in MMA. And because of this, fighters who enter the sport of MMA without a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or wrestling background, like Ross Pearson, are going to struggle to compete at a high level in the UFC. The most successful British fighter right now, Michael Bisping, is only successful because he possesses extraordinarily nimble hips and an uncanny ability to get up after being taken down.
England has always been a boxing country. As a result, most fighters from England who begin training MMA come into the sport with a boxing background. They begin their training light-years behind their Brazilian and American peers who have background in wrestling or jiu-jitsu. Furthermore, even when they begin their training in earnest, high-level training partners are extremely difficult to find in England. Sure, there are plenty of boxers who can help MMA fighters work their hands, but there are very few wrestlers and jiu-jitsu players who can help them shore up their ground game. So, not only are they starting way behind their North American counterparts on the ground, they also can’t find high-level partners to help them compete.
It is pretty telling that Ross Pearson is actually the only fighter from the UK vs. USA season of The Ultimate Fighter left on the UFC roster. Every other English fighter from that season has been cut. Just look at the champions of MMA: every single male champion came into the UFC with a strong ground game. Sure, Anderson Silva became the greatest striker of our generation, but he actually trained jiu-jitsu before he learned Muy Thai.
The only way British fighters can compete long-term is to come to North America where the best camps and training partners are located. Sure, we may get the occasional guy like Michael Bisping who can stick around in the UFC for a long time. But he also trains in Huntington Beach, California, not England. Ross Pearson has also moved his training to Alliance MMA in San Diego. John Hathaway would also be wise to find a training camp in North America that suits him.
It is very hard to develop a well-rounded MMA game and it is even harder to do it with no background in wrestling or jiu-jitsu, which is why it will be a very long time until we have a British champion in the UFC.