Sean Pierson used to be shy until he got in the ring

Andre Thurairatnam and colleagues interview Sean Pierson March 2011

by Andre Thurairatnam

Twelve years after starting his professional career, mixed martial artist Sean Pierson has finally achieved his dream of making it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The Pickering, Ont.  native was signed to the UFC on short notice in December 2010 after another fighter had to drop out due to injury. Pierson is completely aware of how luck played a role in his career.

“[If he didn’t get injured], I’d probably still be trying to chase this dream,” he said in an interview March 30 with Centennial College journalism students at his gym in  North York.

” A lot of people fall into great careers – but they don’t fall in without the work behind it,” he explained. “I’ve been working toward this goal for a long time. The opportunity presented itself, and I was in a good enough position where I could take advantage of it.”

For Pierson, it’s a case of  “better late than never”.  At 35, he is a decade older than the average fighter.

“I got to the UFC at a point where most people would have quit a long time ago,” he said, referring to the long standing ban on UFC in Ontario which was lifted only in the summer of 2010. “I had to make the choice at one point [in my life] to quit [MMA] as a career,” he said. “My big thing is: I didn’t want my family to sacrifice for my dream.”

He spent years away from the ring while doing what he felt was the responsible thing: working at a full-time job in the business world with Dell Computers, buying a house and establishing  his family.

“I wanted to give up a couple times, but I [thought], ‘If I give up, then what happens if UFC Toronto [happens]’?” he said.

Pierson even tried to serve his community as a member of the Toronto police. After being admitted to the force, he was let go in October 2010, because of the force’s unease about his past history as a fighter nicknamed “The Pimp Daddy”.

A Montreal promoter gave him the nickname a decade ago, when he first started dabbling in mixed martial arts. At the time, Pierson modeled his fighting persona on WWF superstars, who were very popular at the time. He had elaborate ring entrances to hardcore rap music and a very memorable costume – which included a furry top hat.

“This wasn’t a career choice for me at the time – I was going for fun,” he explained.

Pierson admits that his ring persona back then acted as an escape of sorts.

“I could be someone different than who I was –because Sean Pierson was actually a shy guy when I was younger. But, when I went out to fight I didn’t have to be that guy anymore because I could play the role of the Pimp Daddy, who’s a completely different character. And that was fun to me.”

Although Pierson does regret some of those decisions he made earlier on in his career, he believes they played a role in getting to the UFC.

“Unfortunately for me, it’s affected some of the choices I’ve had to make further on in my life, but at the same time if I wasn’t that person maybe I [wouldn’t be] who I am right now,” he said.

Although the  controversy with the Toronto police exploded last fall in a very public way, Pierson revealed he was most concerned about how the negative media attention hurt his parents. He admits he still feels frustrated with what happened, because despite his best efforts,  he can’t erase all the old photos of him that still exist on the Internet, or the nickname that sometimes still pops up from time to time.

He made the comparison to criminals who are able to get their records expunged in order to join the police force – but because his mistakes were made in the public eye and well-documented by the media, nothing can be done.

“I made the mistake of wearing a top hat and an ugly shirt – and I can’t fix my problem,” he said.

Although it was an undesirable scenario to be caught up in, Pierson understands completely why he had to be let go.

“Policing is about perception, and perception is a key role in being a police officer,” he said. “So I understand what happened there and it doesn’t mean I can’t help my community in a different way in the future.”

You can catch Sean at UFC 129 in his second UFC fight, April 30 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

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