When a fighter finds his groove, it can be a beautiful thing to watch, and Ross Pearson believes he's firing on all cylinders heading into Fight Night 30.
While the journey has certainly come with a fair share of adversity, the former TUF winner is confident everything is falling into place at precisely the right time. The 29-year-old Englishman has endured setbacks and false-starts, as he's tried to find his footing inside the Octagon and make good on the potential he showed during his red-hot start under the UFC banner back in 2009.
After defeating Andre Winner to become the ninth man to raise The Ultimate Fighter plaque, the Team Alliance fighter would build further momentum when he bested veterans Aaron Riley and Dennis Siver in his next two showings. With quick success Pearson appeared to be on the fast track to establishing his name in the highly competitive lightweight ranks until fellow TUF alum Cole Miller brought that progress to an abrupt halt via knockout in September of 2010.
The Sunderland native would bounce back in his next outing against Spencer Fisher at UFC 127 the following February, but when he was edged out on the judge's scorecards by Edson Barboza at UFC 134 six months later, Pearson suddenly found himself drifting into limbo in the 155-pound fold.
Looking for a jump start, he decided to drop a weight class and test his skills in the featherweight division, but that move ultimately provided mixed results. Despite defeating Junior Assuncao at UFC 141 in December of 2011, he suffered a punishing knockout at the hands of Cub Swanson six months later at UFC on FX 4 in Atlantic City.
In the aftermath of his loss to Swanson, the former bricklayer turned mixed martial artist decided the best move would be a return to 155 pounds and make a full commitment to getting his career back on track. After defeating George Sotiropoulos and Ryan Couture, respectively, the decision appears to have been the right one, and Pearson's status in the lightweight fold is once again on the rise.
"I tried 145 pounds and it didn't work out for me," Pearson told Bleacher Report. "It didn't feel healthy for me. I wasn't comfortable and I didn't enjoy it. Lightweight is my home and is where I feel the best. My time at 145 was a learning experience and it will help me out in the long run, but fighting at 155 is so much more enjoyable for me. This is my home and where I can bring my best."
That said, he will face a stern challenge Saturday night when he faces Melvin Guillard at Fight Night 30 in Manchester, England. "The Young Assassin" is one of the 155-pound division's most dangerous strikers and Pearson is looking forward to scrapping it out with the heavy handed knockout artist.
"When I saw the contract to fight Melvin I got excited straight away," Pearson said. "We both come to fight and we both come to entertain. I was definitely excited about this fight from the very beginning. It's going to be a great fight for the fans and I'm not going to disappoint. I'm looking forward to going out there and showcasing my skills.
"Where we are in our careers at this time, I believe the winner of this fight will go on to possibly face a top-five fighter in the next fight and start to climb the ladder toward title contention. The winner will push their way into the upper echelon of the division and I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to test myself. I just want to keep pushing forward, believe in my own skills and show what I can do out there.
"I feel amazing," he added. "Camp went really well and everything is coming together perfectly. I had great training partners and all of my coaches put a great game plan together. I'm really excited to go out there on Saturday and put on an exciting performance. All the hard work is done and now I'm ready to go out there and fight."
When Pearson steps into the Octagon on Saturday night, it will be the first time in nearly four years he's been able to compete on his native soil. The past seven years have brought a tremendous increase in popularity for MMA in the U.K. and the former TUF winner has played a solid role in that movement. Fellow TUF winner Michael Bisping may have kicked off the UFC's version of the "British invasion," but he's certainly had some assistance over the years, and Pearson is happy to do his part.
His bout against Guillard at Fight Night 30 will come at a crucial time in his career and he's well aware of the circumstances involved. A victory will move him into the next tier of the lightweight division and a loss would once again push his status towards limbo. Nevertheless, Pearson has triumphed over adversity in the past and credits his support system for his ability to do so. Without them, none of his success would have been possible and he wants to give them a show on Saturday night.
"I'm honored to be a part of the UFC and I'm honored to fly the flag for the U.K. in this event," Pearson said. "Michael Bisping had to pull out of his fight because of an eye injury and now it kind of feels like I'm the one flying the flag for the U.K. and I'm honored to do so.
"The fans are going to see the best Ross Pearson. My camp was amazing and I'm ready to go out there and perform. This fight is for the fans and my friends and family who have supported me. I have received a lot of support as I've been traveling to fight overseas and now I'm fighting in England and this fight is for them.
"They supported me before I was in the UFC—before I was anyone—and I want to show them how much I've improved. I want to show them what kind of level I'm fighting at now and what kind of fighter I've become."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.