One punch. That was the difference between “Aaron Simpson, UFC welterweight” and “Aaron Simpson, World Series of Fighting welterweight.”
Things were going Simpson’s way in October at UFC on FX 5 against Mike Pierce. But then early in the second round, Pierce landed a punch that changed Simpson’s career. Simpson was out, and in the last fight on his contract, he eventually was told an extension wasn’t in the cards.
Simpson went 7-4 in the UFC and 1-1 after dropping from middleweight. But he never really got a chance to get started in the division before his release, which he didn’t really see coming.
Now Simpson (12-4) will try to regroup with the upstart World Series of Fighting when he debuts for the promotion against Josh Burkman (24-9) at WSOF 2, which takes place March 23 at Revel Atlantic City in New Jersey. The main card, including a main event between former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski and Anthony Johnson and Simpson-Burkman, airs on NBC Sports Network.
“I would’ve loved to stay with the UFC, but luckily we have a company like World Series of Fighting stepping up and making waves and doing exciting things,” Simpson told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio).
Simpson said his years fighting at middleweight had him consistently undersized in the UFC, and the drop to welterweight had him feeling like he was about to go on a tear – before he ran into Pierce’s right hand.
“I felt amazing (against Pierce),” Simpson said. “It was one of those deals where I thought I was unstoppable. I made me feel really strong in that welterweight division – that first round, I felt like I could do anything to him. And then running into a punch just soured it all.
“No question (it was one of my toughest losses). Everything was moving forward. I needed to get that win and jump up in the rankings, and I felt like a fight with Jon Fitch was possibly next. I thought, ‘I’ve got to start fighting these dudes to climb up that ladder.’ I honestly thought I could beat any of those guys in the welterweight division. When (the loss) happened, it really shook me for a while and took me a couple months to really get back to normal, I guess.”
Simpson’s last four wins at middleweight all were decisions. And when he dropped to welterweight for the first time, he took Kenny Robertson to a decision for his debut at 170.
In an MMA age in which strong wrestlers like Simpson often are criticized for going to decisions, Simpson said for the Pierce fight, he was coming to grips with his decision-heavy past and what he wanted to do going forward at welterweight.
Simpson believes without Pierce landing that punch, the conversation about him moving forward without the UFC wouldn’t even be happening right now.
“It came down to that last fight, and in my opinion, Mike Pierce threw a lucky right hand and caught me,” he said. “I say luck, but whatever. I’m past it now. It took me a couple months. But I put myself in that position. I could’ve fought safe, but I didn’t want to do that. I feel like in that welterweight division, there’s no point in me fighting safe anymore because I can beat those guys, and I can beat them up and finish them. In the middleweight division, I kind of had to (fight safe) because I was giving up 20 pounds – almost 30 pounds against Ronny Markes, which is a huge difference. In a way, I know it was boring and it sucks, but I kind of had to do that in a way and exploit their weaknesses.”
With WSOF, Simpson will try to escape that fight-safe mentality and make a solid first impression on a new fan base and new bosses. He’ll be sticking around at 170, and now that Fitch has signed with the promotion after his much-maligned UFC release, maybe a fight between those two still is in the cards after it had been planned in the UFC, but never came to fruition.
For Simpson right now, he’ll enjoy the newness over what might be coming next rather than continue to lament what he had before.
“This just seems like a great move, and I’m impressed so far with the people at World Series of Fighting,” he said. “They’ve been great and easy to deal with, so I’m excited to get out to Atlantic City and put on a great show. Who knows where this is going to be, the way the sport is growing. I’m happy to be a part of something that’s new.”
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