Former Toronto accountant set to make UFC debut
MONTREAL - It will only take seconds for Sean Pierson to walk to the cage at the Bell Centre on Saturday night but in reality the journey to get there has lasted more than a decade.
The 34-year-old welterweight from Toronto has changed along the way. No longer the flamboyant fighter known as Pimp Daddy, Pierson is married with a son and trying to be a mixed martial arts role model.
He has quit his job at Dell Computers, where he was an account manager, to make the most of his "unbelievable" UFC 124 shot against Matt Riddle.
"It's been 10, 11 years in the making," Pierson (10-4) said of his UFC dream.
Jobs, injuries and a lengthy hiatus from the sport delayed fulfilling a goal he set so many years ago. And Pierson admits there were times when he thought the dream was over.
"I gave up on it a couple of times, and truthfully it's just due to my friends, family, competitors, people that trained with me that kept me going, because a lot of people would be like 'No you don't have to give up, you're good enough for this,"' he recalled.
"It would bring me back, because you always get those down times, if something doesn't go right. I'd get an injury or this and that and I'm like 'OK maybe I'm not ready.' A lot of motivation from a lot of different people kept me involved in the sport and now there's no feeling to explain how I feel about accomplishing this goal for myself."
Active in sports growing up, Pierson settled on wrestling and excelled at Brock, where he was a Canadian university freestyle champion and Canadian national champion in Greco-Roman while studying business administration and computer science.
While at university, he started training with some MMA fighters. Back then, it was pretty basic. Everyone was learning, he recalled.
"There was a lot of video, a lot of trial and error, a lot of watching fights. But we all did our best to improve our skills."
Still at school, Pierson made his MMA debut against Steve Vigneault in October 1999, winning by TKO in 67 seconds.
He had three or four more fights in college then had a decision to make. Did he keep training in a bid to continue as an athlete -- both wrestling and MMA -- or buckle down and get a job?
He opted to work, deciding his parents had sacrificed enough already for his sporting career. He was 4-3 in MMA, having lost a decision to Vigneault in their third fight in September 2003.
Pierson wouldn't fight again until March 2007, even though he missed it.
"I was in a sales job and making great money, but I was working probably 12 to 14 hours some days. And I realized that I couldn't train and compete at the level that I'm supposed to."
Friends who were training younger fighters asked him to help. And he soon realized how much he missed it.
"I'd go to a live event and be like I want to be in the ring."
So he looked at his life and made some changes.
"One, I got better at my job. I worked smarter rather than longer and then, two ... I thought why am I giving up on this (dream) now? And I just decided well that means I've got two hours of sleep less a day. I get up a little earlier, I do a little more work and I just get everything done."
There were still bumps along the way. Pierson managed himself as a fighter and made some bad decisions.
One was taking a 2007 fight on short notice with Jesse Bongfeldt, a tough customer who also makes his UFC debut Saturday.
"Cardio was the main factor in the fight, by the end of the second round I really had nothing left and that was again I took a fight based on 'I'll fight anybody any time' versus 'I'm not prepared for a fight, why am I taking it last minute?"'
Pierson has won all five fights since and turned some heads with a December 2009 win over Fabio Holanda. In February, he was rewarded with a contract from Bellator, only to tear his medial collateral ligament in two places.
Six months later, his knee was restored to full health but the Bellator opening was gone.
Pierson defeated Ricky Goodall by first-round TKO at a W-1 card in Halifax on Oct. 23. Two days later he got an email from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who need a Montreal replacement for the injured T.J. Waldburger.
"I wasn't expecting anything so it was a nice little surprise," Pierson said.
The first person he told was his wife.
"She was just like 'Why are you so smiley?"'
Pierson had been targeting the UFC's Toronto show but was delighted to fight in Montreal.
"Because I've fought in the Bell Centre before. There's some familiarity there for me. I'm excited because really that's my home away from home."
Pierson reckons he has fought 10 times in Quebec.
Even though he has achieved his dream, Pierson says really he has only just begun.
"Even though I've done a lot of work to get here, I've got to do twice as much work now to stay here and to be competitive here and move up the rankings."
So he quit his job to train full time.
"I want to make a solid run with no excuses. I don't want to look back at my career and be like maybe I could have, or should have."
While Pierson will be savouring his UFC entrance Saturday night, it will no doubt be quieter than some of his previous ring entrances as Pimp Daddy, a nickname bestowed on him by a Montreal promoter in years gone by.
"Music, stupid hats sunglasses, girls, whatever they were throwing at me I was like I'll use it," he said.
At the time, he saw fighting as fun rather than a career and his ring entrances reflected it.
"I just sort of went with it back them," he said of the nickname. "I didn't think anything of it, thought it was funny but I understand that to some people that's not so funny the word pimp,.
"To me it was reinventing my career anyways, so losing the nickname was a smart decision on my part, I thought."
Riddle (5-1) is an alumnus of "The Ultimate Fighter," who has never fought outside of the UFC.
"An extremely tough guy," said Pierson. "No one gets five wins in the UFC without being a very good fighter so I'm going to give him a lot of credit there."