Sean Pierson says being in the UFC now, at 35, is “gravy”

Natalie Sequeira and colleagues interview Sean Pierson, UFC fighter March 2011

by Natalie Sequeira

Sean Pierson may have finally achieved his dream of being a part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but he recognizes that his dream will not last much longer.

“I’m not going to put a cap on anything, but I don’t … want to be fighting when I’m 42, 43, 44 years old,” Pierson, 35, told Centennial students in an interview Wednesday. “It’s not in me.”

Sitting in the miniature octagon at his gym in North York, where he is in training for UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto April 30, Pierson  is passionate about fighting, but says it will soon be  time to focus on his two-year-old son.

“I’d love to stay involved in the sport,” after he retires, he said. “But really, I want to get out and I want to enjoy my son’s life [because] I know how time-intensive that’s going to be.”

Watching the first UFC game with his friends when he was young, Pierson vowed that he would get into the octagon one day.

He started wrestling in Grade 4,  did some judo in high school, and went on to mixed martial arts (MMA) – a blend of wrestling, judo, Muay Thai, boxing and jiu jitsu.  He won championships in college and began to fight in Montreal, as a lark, at first.

He dropped out of fighting and became an accounts manager at Dell for several years, because he had another dream to fulfill: he wanted a family. With a full-time job, he got married, bought a house, had a son and made sure he was stable before returning to the sport.

The Scarborough native won his first MMA fight in 1999, and was later signed to Bellator Fighting Championships. But several friends told him he was getting too old for the sport and would not get a chance at the UFC.

“Maybe I won’t,” Pierson recalls answering them.  “But if I give up, I’ll never know.”

His perseverance paid off. When UFC fighter T.J. Waldburger had to pull out because of an injury late last year, Pierson was signed. In December 2010, he fought against Matt Riddle at UFC 124 in Montreal, and won the fight.

“What I knew about that win, it was just that sense of accomplishment. Not only did I get here but I belong here,” he said, recalling how he felt after the event.

Pierson’s hopes of fighting in Toronto will be fulfilled soon. On April 30, Ontario will host its first licensed UFC event – UFC 129 – since the sport was legalized last August. Pierson is on the preliminary card and was scheduled to fight against Brian Foster, 26.

“To me everything now is gravy,” Pierson said. “I’m 35 years old. I got to the UFC when most people would have quit a long time ago.”

If there is one thing Pierson does regret, it is a nickname he was given by a commentator when he was younger and not thinking of fighting as a career. That nickname was Pimp Daddy.

The name was a reason why he was let go by the Toronto police force last fall, a job he says he wanted for the camaraderie, along with how it could allow him to give back to his community.

“It was hard at the time,” he said. “Because for me I didn’t know how to change anything…I’m like ‘What do I do?…I’m a good person.’”

What frustrates him is that while young offenders charged with theft could get their record expunged, he says, his old nickname lives on in the Internet.

“ I made the mistake of wearing a top hat and an ugly shirt!” he said. “It’s very hard to separate yourself in today’s age from something that happened in the past.”

But when it comes down to  April 30,  Pierson’s focusing on  his family, being a good role model for his son  and living up to the expectations he has of himself.

“It’s not about me. Because all these people support me, I want to do right by them,” he said.  “It’s all these sacrifices that everybody else makes that scares me.

“I don’t want to let them down…that’s why when you win, everything is so great.”

As for when Pierson plans to bow out of the game, he says his family has carte blanche over that.

“It’s always hard for an athlete to retire,” he said. “So I’m putting it in their [his parents and wife’s] hands. When they say I’m done, I’m done. And I won’t argue.

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