Jesse Ronson knew something was wrong the second he stepped into the Octagon.
During his time on the regional circuit, the Canadian lightweight spent the moments before the fight sketching out the beating he was about to bestow on the poor soul across the cage from him in his head, his lips moving as his bad intentions turned from thoughts to words as the ring announcer introduced he and the guy that was about to become the next man he defeated.
That wasn’t the case at UFC 165.
Instead of looking across the cage and muttering things than can’t be repeated in this space in the direction of Michael Prazeres, the 28-year-old from London, Ontario was gobsmacked to be standing in front of Bruce Buffer, listening to “The Voice of the Octagon” announce his name to the partisan crowd that had packed the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
“There was so much pressure on me to win my UFC fight - because everybody always wins their first UFC fight - that I had already lost before the fight even started,” he says, thinking back to the night that was supposed to be one of the fondest memories of his entire life. “I was already mentally defeated. It all came together when I got to the cage - Bruce Buffer was the culmination.”
He laughs about it now, but looking back on the performance still stings because the fighter Ronson sees on film doesn’t look anything like the fighter that put together an eight-fight winning streak in order to get a short notice call-up to the biggest stage in the sport.
“My manager had been telling me forever that the UFC is gridlocked - they’re not signing anybody - so you’re going to have to keep taking fights or you can just wait it out. Taking that Shane Campbell fight was a huge risk because he’s now in the K-1 finals, but I beat him and I was going to take another fight and then the UFC calls. Five weeks, you’ve got to lose 30 pounds, and I wasn’t about to say no.
“I wanted to be in the UFC since I watched the first one,” he continues, echoing a sentiment shared by most within the fight community. “Getting there, I wasn’t nervous - I did a lot of work with a sports psychologist because I figured I would be nervous, but I was good up until I got to the cage, and then I kind of mentally defeated myself. I was not myself when I watched the tape, and I can do a lot better than that.
“Normally when I’m in the cage, I’m looking at my opponent, and in my head I’m threatening him. Sometimes you can even see my mouth move because I’m threatening this guy - cussing him out in my head - but when I fought Prazeres, I couldn’t even look at him. When he looked at me, I actually looked away, and that’s not me.
“When the bell went, I actually sat back and thought about that—like `Why can’t I look at this guy?’ I knew something was wrong right then and it was a snowball effect after that.”
Prazeres hit four takedowns in the opening round, taking Ronson off his game from the outset. Though he battled back to win the final frame and get the nod from one of the judges, the Canadian ultimately came up short in his debut, dropping a split decision to the Brazilian.
Fortunately for the now 13-3 product of the Adrenaline Training Center, he’ll get a chance to redeem himself on February 15, as Ronson will go from being “the hometown favorite” to the “foreign invader” when he travels to Jaragua do Sul, Brazil to take on Francisco Trinaldo as part of the UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi preliminary card.
Sporting an identical 13-3 record, the 35-year-old Trinaldo has gone 3-2 since emerging from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, most recently being submitted by newcomer Piotr Hallman.
“This time is going to be different,” Ronson says of his impending showdown with Trinaldo. “That last fight made me a mental monster. Having a full training camp to prepare, the weight cut going well, that means I’m not stressed. I’m well prepared, changed a few things, and it’s going to show.”
For Ronson, it all comes down to accepting what is going to happen on February 15 and embracing it. He didn’t do that last time out and it cost him, but that won’t be the case when he shares the Octagon with “Massaranduba” later this month.
“We’re in that cage; we’re going to fight. It doesn’t matter what I say beforehand, we’re in there, and I’m going to punch you in the face. You’re going to try to punch me in the face. I don’t care if I get you mad or upset you - we’re in a fight. I’m going to stare you down and I’m going to rip you apart.
“There’s no more fear - I’m in the business to fight and we’re going to fight. We’re getting in there and we’re going to throw down. That’s exactly (the mindset) I needed and didn’t have (last time). I needed that setback to bring out the animal in me.
While his debut came with the added stress of fighting close to home, his sophomore opportunity is the exact opposite, as Ronson will step into the Octagon before a partisan Brazilian crowd chanting threats at the Canadian for thinking he can come to their country and turn back one of their own.
Ronson welcomes it, and intends to do just that.
“I love how patriotic the Brazilian crowd is and how they support their fighters. When Jeremy Stephens knocked out Rony Jason, the crowd was quiet. Everywhere else in the world - it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting in Japan and you knocked out a Japanese guy, or you’re in America and you knocked out an American - people are going to cheer.
“The fact that the crowd went silent shows they’re patriotic, and I have always thrived in the bad guy role. I love the fact that I’m going down there and they’re going to boo; it just makes me want to push that much harder to beat the hometown guy. I find pleasure in disappointing people, letting them know that the underdog can win.
“(This time around) you’re going to see the old Jesse Ronson. I’m going to be in this guy’s face and I’m going to be pushing him because I know he quit on the stool in The Ultimate Fighter house, and I know he doesn’t have a gas tank.
“I’m going to be taking his wind from him, pushing and pushing and pushing. He’s going to cave. He’s either going to drop and quit or I’m going to take him down and tap him out. Either way, he’s going to break.”
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Jesse Ronson: Return of the Body Snatcher
"I find pleasure in disappointing people, letting them know that the underdog can win." - Jesse Ronson