What a 2012 for Portland, Ore., native Mike Pierce.
Now 3-2 in his last five, Pierce’s year sees him looking to put another streak together after he rebounded from his UFC 143 loss to Josh Koscheck with a unanimous decision win over Carlos Eduardo Rocha. From the eyes of many spectators, Pierce’s wrestling shut Rocha down to where Rocha legitimately found himself unable to mount any significant threat to Pierce. However, controversy struck as one judge—intending to give Pierce a 30-27 score—wound up giving Rocha the three-round sweep, thus initially rendering a split decision win for Pierce.
“Great, here we go again,” Pierce said, recalling his thoughts (with a laugh) when he heard he’d won by a split decision. “It was just absolutely preposterous. Anyone watching that fight clearly knew he didn’t win one single round…at least they corrected their wrong, though.”
With that cleared up, the 14-5 welterweight now turns his attention to 12-3 middleweight-turned-welterweight Aaron Simpson, who he faces on the Facebook portion of UFC on FX 5 this Friday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The two share a common foe in Kenny Robertson, who lost a decision to Simpson at UFC on Fuel TV 3 and suffered his first pro loss against Pierce at UFC 126. Does that say anything about what Pierce expects from Simpson this weekend?
“You know, I think so, a little bit,” Pierce said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I’ve watched a lot of film on Aaron, and I think he’s better suited for 185 [pounds].”
Simpson earned the unanimous decision against Robertson, but Pierce feels Simpson’s fight with Robertson—and his subsequent post-fight interview—displayed more of Simpson’s inability to keep up with the welterweights. Those who watched UFC on Fuel TV 3 felt Simpson’s fight with Robertson should have shown how the drop to 170 pounds accentuated his offensive techniques on the feet and on the ground.
“I think those are a couple of weaknesses in his game plan,” Pierce said, “and it sounds like an exploit.”
Despite the performance, Pierce senses a difficult foe ahead of him in Simpson, who aims to compile a two-fight winning streak at Pierce’s expense. Pierce definitely wants a two-fight winning streak of his own as well, but he knows he cannot overlook Simpson in this bout. As a matter of fact, he sees the Power MMA Team product as a strong challenge for him on Friday night.
“He’s a tough guy,” Pierce said. “He definitely has a solid wrestling base. He has knockout power and comes to fight.”
Simpson’s ability to build momentum as the fight progresses only adds to the strengths that Pierce, who himself competed as a NCAA Division I wrestler for Portland State, sees in the former Arizona State University standout. With both men having strong wrestling bases, Pierce definitely does not count out the possibility of their styles clashing in order to provide a hearty stand-up affair.
“There’s plenty of other good wrestlers that I’ve fought before,” Pierce said. “Josh Koscheck comes to mind; Paul Bradley, another two-time All-American…I didn’t get a takedown on [Bradley], but we relatively canceled each other out. If it turns into a bang fest, I’m all over that.”
Of course, the one knock on Simpson, according to MMA fans and pundits, comes in the form of his recent 4-1 run, which began after consecutive defeats in bouts with Chris Leben and Mark Munoz. Not to imply that some shame should ever come from a tough fight with Ronny Markes, but Simpson’s recent 4-1 stretch, including the win over Robertson, consists of unanimous decision victories and the split decision loss to Markes.
Ask Pierce, however, and he will anticipate an “A-Train” who wants to hurt him, even if he gets his takedowns off first.
“I think he wants to try and put me on the ground and control me,” Pierce said. “But when he gets behind people, he doesn’t really just hang on and grind like some people do. He actually does damage and looks to hurt people, so we’re looking to avoid those spots and watching out for that right hand because he’s knocked guys out with that too.”
Simpson, an orthodox fighter much like Pierce, earned five of his first eight pro wins with the use of his vaunted right hand. Simpson’s sixth TKO win in that span comes in the form of his UFC 102 victory over Ed Herman. Herman damaged his knee on a takedown attempt in the first round against Simpson and collapsed in pain after going for a high kick just 17 seconds into the second round. In 19 professional fights, however, Pierce has never succumbed to a knockout or a submission, which makes Simpson’s task of finishing Pierce easier said than done, even if not impossible. All four of Pierce’s most recent fights may have gone the distance, but Pierce knows what he must do to come out with an undisputed verdict on Friday.
“If I put the pressure on him from start to finish, he’s going to crumble and I’m going to come out with a TKO or a knockout.”
Neither man will prove a cakewalk for the other. Both have demonstrated their hunger in the past and both wish to excel in this fight, but for Pierce, he especially wants to show the world that he really does present a threat to the rest of the division.
“This is the next step, to be honest” Pierce stated. “This is a real good opportunity to showcase what I’ve been working on and just hurt guys, man. That’s what I want to do, and I think if I do that in this fight, really put a beating on him, and showcase the skills that I’ve been working on and the potential that I have, then definitely I think it puts me into an opportunity and a position where I can start to get into that picture.”
And as far as a rematch with either Koscheck, Johny Hendricks or Jon Fitch goes, he knows which loss he’d like to avenge, if the UFC comes a-knockin with the opportunity.
“I beat [Koscheck] the first time, so there’s no sense in beating him twice. Fitch would be fun to avenge the loss, but I think Johny presents the more interesting fight.”
If Pierce can defeat Simpson this Friday, and if Hendricks can beat Martin Kampmann at UFC 154 later this month, Pierce might just get that chance.
Top Photo: Mike Pierce (L) battles Carlos Eduardo Rocha (James Law/Heavy MMA)