Anything can happen when the cage door closes, and Ross Pearson has come to appreciate the elements of truth in that cliche. The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 winner has been forced to deal with a pair of curious outcomes in his two most recent showings, with both bouts ending in controversial fashion.
The Real Deal's misfortune began last October at UFC Fight Night 30 when a questionable knee from Melvin Guillard hit Pearson's face while the Team Alliance member appeared to have a knee and a hand on the canvas. By the unified rules of MMA, this made Pearson a downed opponent, and the referee deemed The Young Assassin's strike to be illegal. Furthermore, as the knee smashed into the British slugger, it opened up a huge gash on his forehead, which resulted in the cage-side doctor calling a stop to the bout.
The official result of the tilt between Pearson and Guillard was ruled a no-contest and left the 29-year-old Englishman feeling eager to erase the fight from his mind. An injury would force him out of the scheduled rematch with the lightweight staple, but he would finally get the chance to step back into the Octagon when he faced Diego Sanchez at UFC Fight Night 42 in June.
While Pearson was facing The Nightmare in his own backyard of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he proved to handle the pressure of a hostile crowd in remarkable fashion, as his crisp boxing battered the gritty veteran throughout. When the three-round scrap came to a close, it appeared Pearson had done enough to obtain the victory, but he was absolutely stunned when the judges announced a split-decision victory for Sanchez.
As soon as Sanchez's victory was announced, a shock wave of disbelief and outrage surged through the MMA community. That sentiment was echoed by UFC President Dana White, who went on record to call the outcome "insanity" and publicly stated his belief that Pearson won the fight. Pearson would go on to appeal the outcome with the New Mexico State Athletic Commission, but Sanchez's victory would ultimately be upheld.
Yet, despite failing to officially add a notch in the win column in those two bouts, the Sunderland, England native believes he's picked up solid momentum in those showings. He has no doubt that he outfought Sanchez in their clash, and he carried that energy into the preparation for his next challenge.
"I left that cage knowing 100 percent that I won that fight no matter what the judges said," Pearson told Bleacher Report. "No matter what my record says, I won that fight as clear as day. I'm still riding the confidence from it, because I know I can go in there with these big-name guys, beat them and beat them comfortably. I'm definitely going to be looking for the finish more, but not everyone in the UFC is there to be finished. Diego is one of the toughest guys in the division, and I wasn't expecting to go in there and take him out in the first round.
"I stuck to my game plan, put on a good performance and think I won every round. I'm carrying that feeling into this next fight. I didn't have any injuries or anything to stop us from training. I'm fully healthy, and I want to get back in there and show the world what I can do."
While he was initially slotted to face surging lightweight knockout artist Abel Trujillo at UFC Fight Night 47 on Aug. 16, another wrinkle of chaos developed. The Team Blackzilians fighter suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw two weeks out from the card. Rather than attempt to bring in an opponent for Pearson on short notice, the UFC decided to draw from the event's lineup and tapped Gray Maynard to step into the co-main event tilt.
The former title challenger was originally slated to face Fabricio Camoes on the card, but that bout was scrapped when the former three-time All-American wrestler from Michigan State University agreed to mix it up with Pearson. With a new matchup set and both fighters in hunt of what would be a crucial victory, Pearson believes the tilt has all the makings for an action-packed affair.
"It most definitely has the makings for a great fight," Pearson said. "We are both going to go in there and put on the performances of our lives. Gray needs to establish that he's still got it in his career and that he can still go out there and do big things. As for me, I'm looking to break into the top 10 and move on from there. We are both coming in hungry. We are both coming in aggressive, and it's going to be a great fight where the best man on that night will win."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.