As former competitors on The Ultimate Fighter and current UFC contenders, Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos may appear to have plenty in common. And they do when it comes to having success among the elite in their weight class after introducing themselves to the world via the wonders of reality television.
But as they approach tonight’s premiere of The Ultimate Fighter: Australia vs. UK – The Smashes as opposing coaches, both bring distinct approaches to the game that will set them – and their respective teams apart.
Team UK coach Pearson, the winner of TUF 9, is the ultimate fan turned ultimate fighter. A former bricklayer from Sunderland, England, Pearson was just 3-2 as a pro and working on a construction site in Newcastle when the UFC came to town for UFC 80.
“We went along to watch the weigh-ins and I stood outside trying to get tickets and I remember the feeling of hearing that BJ Penn was staying in the hotel right near where I lived,” said Pearson in 2011. “There was all this excitement about the UFC, and I was working on a building site. But it hit home that this was what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be.”
A lot of people have dreams like that. Pearson made his a reality, earning a place on Team UK on TUF 9. By June of 2009, he had won the season title and a UFC contract. Seven fights have followed for “The Real Deal,” and while he’s had his ups and downs, his work ethic and heart have kept him on the upswing heading into his role as a coach on The Smashes. And he’s not about to go back to bricklaying.
“You’ve got to keep impressing, keep working hard, and keep winning to be in this business,” he said. “All the best guys in the world have that same dedication and drive, but I’m a little different because I’ve dedicated my life to this. Everything I do revolves around training and fighting for the UFC, and if I didn’t have this, I’d be back on a building site, which would mean the end of the world to me. It’s something I don’t even want to think about.”
Team Australia’s Sotiropoulos also paid his dues in the 9 to 5 world, working in the financial industry for companies from the National Australia Bank to Merrill Lynch. Along the way the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt began his MMA career, traveling around the world for fights and for training. It was a Spartan lifestyle for the Geelong native, and his professionalism covered every aspect of it.
“I like to have my act together,” he said in 2011. “I like being organized, I think it’s how my parents raised me to be and it’s how I want to be. I want to be professional in everything I do and I like staying on top of everything and getting ahead in every aspect of life that I possibly can. It allows me to cover my bases and address the aspects I need to cover in training and in fighting, and it allows me to be well-rounded as I plan for the future. I want to be a complete fighter and I think I’m taking the steps to be that fighter, and this allows me to always be prepared.”
A semifinalist on The Ultimate Fighter’s sixth season in 2007, Sotiropoulos has made quite the career for himself in the lightweight division of the UFC, winning seven of nine bouts.
Sotiropoulos expects to score win number eight on December 15 when he meets Pearson on the Smashes finale card at the Gold Coast Convention and Entertainment Centre. But first there’s the business of preparing their teams for battle and coaching them to victory. They know what it takes to make it to the UFC, and they’re eager to pass that knowledge along to their teams.
“It’s a really diverse group of guys on the team, but the thing that’s uniting them is that everyone’s motivated and focused,” said Sotiropoulos. “There’s a lot of personal and national pride at stake but they’re going into the competition with a positive attitude and are really pulling together as a team. I’m very impressed by their maturity.”
“Having been where they are, I know exactly what the guys are facing,” added Pearson. “They’re taking it all in their stride and, despite being so far from home, they’re eager to prove themselves, so morale is high. They each bring unique strengths to the team so the sparks are really going to fly when they meet the Aussies in the Octagon.”
Tonight, the road to the Smashes finale begins…here are the 16 men competing to be called The Ultimate Fighter…
Grant Blackler, 23, Sunshine Coast
Patrick Iodice, 19, GoldCoast
Richie Vaculik, 29, Sydney
Ben Wall, 23, Brisbane
Ben Alloway, 31, GoldCoast
Xavier Lucas, 31, Perth
Manuel Rodriguez, 27, Sydney
Robert Whitaker, 21, Sydney
Colin Fletcher, 29, Sunderland
Norman Parke, 25, Bushmills, Nth Ireland
Michael Pastou, 30, Essex
Mike Wilkinson, 24, Leigh
Luke Newman, 22, London
Bola Omoyele, 30, London
Valentino Petrescu, 30, Essex
Brad Scott, 23, Melksham