Jonathan Pearce may be the American fighting on foreign soil this Saturday against a European-based fighter in Mr. Finland, Makwan Amirkhani, but “JSP” isn’t concerned about the reaction he’ll receive from the fans at The O2 Arena in London.
“I don't think they're gonna boo me,” he said. “I think they're gonna love me.”
Well, what’s not to love about the Tennessee native, who bounced back from a loss in his UFC debut to Joe Lauzon in 2019 to win three straight, most recently decisioning Christian Rodriguez in February.
To say he’s come a long way to get here – both literally and figuratively - is an understatement, especially when you consider that after blasting out of the pro gates with four consecutive wins, he dropped three in a row in 2016-17. It was a shock, and no one felt it more than Pearce.
“It was a shock because none of them were renowned fighters like in the UFC,” he said. “You paint a picture of yourself and your own dream, and then when it don't go that way, you get sad. I didn't paint the beautiful movie that everyone goes and watches. But any story could be a movie; it's just how well it's directed.”
Director Pearce had to go back to the drawing board, leave those losses on the cutting room floor, and figure out what went wrong. The 24-second submission defeat to Lance Lawrence? He got caught. The next two was trying to erase that defeat by any means necessary, even if it meant taking short notice fights against anyone he was offered.
“I would say those are learning lessons,” Pearce said. “I was just trying to get back that win real quick and wasn't doing the research and maybe not doing the camps right and doing the right things, and just running in there and trying to get that win back. I saw myself never losing as a pro and I felt like maybe I was in denial. And now looking back at it, I think I've learned from all those lessons and just because you lost doesn't mean you rush back in there and prove everybody else wrong. It's your journey, it's your battle, and you gotta take the process slow sometimes.”
In August of 2017, he got back into the win column and didn’t lose again for over two years. That was to the veteran Lauzon, who beat a kid who still had a little bit of that cockiness in him that he was going to run through all comers in the UFC.
“I thought I could beat everybody,” Pearce said. “And it was heartbreaking when I lost to Lauzon, that was a hard one. So I did a little bit of the same thing I had done on the three-fight losing streak. Slow and steady wins the race, and I think the slower you go, the better.”
Thanks to shoulder surgery, it would be over a year when he returned to the Octagon, but when he did, he was ready to show off a new version of himself, and that’s what we’ve seen in his last three bouts – a disciplined competitor with a high Fight IQ who can beat you in a variety of ways. And yeah, he’s taking it nice and easy when it comes to his career path because, at 30, he’s in no rush.
“I think that's my whole thing,” said the featherweight prospect. “When you work really hard at something, you gotta not only work hard, but you gotta be able to adjust a little. I had this painting in my head of how it's gonna be, but I lose to Lauzon and now I have to adjust a little bit. Maybe '45 is better for me, maybe I can run at '55 after I'm done at '45 and not just try to skip a bunch of steps. Maybe I need to take all these steps to get to the top of the staircase and that's the mindset I'm in now. Slower is better than fast.”