You’ll be fighting Junior Assunção at 141. How do you feel the two of you match up?
It’s an interesting match-up. Stylistically he isn’t the type of guy I’d choose to fight - I like to fight aggressive guys who come forward and attack. In his last few fights Junior hasn’t done that. He’s definitely got more of a counter-attack style and he’s dangerous in all areas. He’s got a very unorthodox stand-up which can cause a problem. He throws just for the sake of throwing punches, not because he sees something, and he can do something crazy, unexpected. The guy’s a BJJ black belt, so he’s obviously got skills on the floor. I don’t think he’s as strong or as fit as me. I don’t think he’s got the heart and desire that I have for fighting. I don’t think, when I put pressure on, he can dig deep like I can. He hasn’t got the boxing and the stand-up that I have. He’s going to find it hard to take me down. Wherever the fight goes it’s going to be where I dictate it.
What lessons have you learnt from your last fight, a narrow decision defeat by Edson Barboza at UFC 134?
Although I fought hard, in hindsight I feel I could have pushed a bit harder and, annoyingly, I didn’t land the shot I was looking to.
It's not been a great year for British fighters, especially in boxing where Carl Froch, Amir Khan and David Haye all lost their titles. How much does national pride play on your mind?
I don’t want to sound like I’m not patriotic and that I’m not proud of where I come from, but I don’t fight for anyone apart from myself. If I was that patriotic towards Britain, I wouldn’t be travelling the world to train with the best guys. I need to be out here in America training with the best guys in the world, in the best facilities in order to become the best that I can be. That's what drives me.
You've recently dropped down from lightweight to featherweight. How have you found the weight cut?
I’m not going to lie - It’s definitely been a lot harder to maintain the weight. The diet for the training camp has been a lot stricter. My food’s been monitored, weighed and measured out so we know exactly what’s going in my body and how I’m performing. Right now I would really love to eat a big pasta dish from an Italian restaurant. That’s what I’m really craving. But obviously because I’m getting close to the fight, I’m cutting out all the carbs. I’m getting really close to cutting out all the sodium, and now I’m water-loading.
What changes have you made to training since you’ve been in featherweight?
I didn’t do a big strength phase where I was lifting heavy weights, doing big squats and big presses. I’m already really strong for this weight class naturally. With lightweight I needed to lift more, be stronger physically. I’ve concentrated more on speed, power, endurance and reaction.
What's the rationale behind dropping to featherweight?
There’s a small window of opportunity for me. There are a lot of really good guys competing in the lightweight division, all competing towards a title shot. I feel I sit right in the top of the featherweight division. I’d see myself one or two fights away from a title shot, and I want a title fight. I want to be at the top. I want to make a big statement in this fight - let the UFC know I’m ready in this division. Whenever they want us to fight for the title I’m going for it. It’s not that I can’t compete in the lightweight division. I’ve done well. But I just see myself being a bigger force in the featherweight division.
Which fighters have you been working with during this training camp?
I’ve been working with so many world-class fighters. Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Alexander Gustafsson, Rolando Perez, all from Alliance MMA in San Diego. Guys like KJ Noons have come down, Jeremy Stephens - all UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator fighters. Top-of-the-tree division guys. They have helped with my wrestling and my ability to keep the fight where I want the fight. And the tough sparring that we do has increased my pace. They've basically made me faster and harder.
Elsewhere at UFC 141, how do you see the heavyweight bout between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem?
It’s a hard fight to call. Lesnar could out-wrestle Overeem and take him down. But also, Overeem has got the power to knock any man out. And if he lands, he can KO Brock. It’s whoever brings it on the night. I’m not a betting man so I can’t tell you where I’d put my money.
Would you move over to Strikeforce if the UFC asked you to?
No. I’m happy where I am with UFC. I want to compete with the best fighters in the world and I want to be in the mix with the best fighters. I love being a part of the UFC. This is my home now and I want to make a run for the title.
Do you think that’s a realistic goal for 2012?
I don’t think it’s an impossibility. Let’s just get this fight out of the way, make a statement and see what the UFC has to offer me.
Ross Pearson fights Junior Assunção at UFC 141 on 30th December. You can watch it on pay-per-view at ufc.tv. For more interviews with top UFC fighters, subscribe to MF.
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