It’s true there are many different paths to the top, and for London, Ont.’s Jesse Ronson (21-10) it’s been quite the journey so far.
Ronson, 36, is set to return this weekend at UFC on ESPN 34 when he takes on Mexico’s Rafa Garcia (13-2) in a lightweight contest. Saturday night will mark Ronson’s fifth walk to the Octagon, but his first since a failed drug test sidelined him back in Nov. 2020.
Putting all the complications of his USADA fiasco in his rearview mirror has been priority number one for Ronson upon his return. Although it’s been challenging, Ronson said it’s only added to his mental fortitude.
“When idiots have nothing else to say they’ll always just bring up the ban. It’s something I’ve learned to get over,” Ronson said in an interview with MMA Empire.
“If anything, it’s made me stronger mentally, it’s preparing me for the future to just help me ignore s**t and just let it slide. I just don’t care anymore. There’s probably nothing worse that could happen to me after such a long time away from the UFC, but it just adds to the story I’m writing. I’m not done yet.”
It’s never ideal to sit on the shelf, especially in a sport that rewards activity. The suspension did, however, give Ronson the opportunity to analyze and keep adding to his MMA tool box.
Despite already having a plethora of highlight performances, Ronson feels fans still haven’t seen the best of him.
“During my time away I’ve been training everything to make my game more complete. I feel I stack up very well with the best lightweights,” Ronson said.
“Even though I’ve fought 30-something times, I have yet to show my full potential. I just get going and then the fight ends. I’m waiting for somebody to be able to stand in there so I can actually showcase all my skills on the ground and everywhere.”
Realizing he’s closer to the end than the beginning of his career, Ronson is looking for the best fights possible to move him up the ladder. He understands the door to a potential title run isn’t closed just yet, but it’s on its way.
“I’m running out of time, so the sprint starts now and nothing is slowing me down,” Ronson said.
“I’m still healthy and I’ve never had any major surgeries. I feel like I can pull a Kevin Holland and get five or six fights this year if I keep the ball rolling. The goal is to make a run and start making some serious money.”
That run starts this weekend with Garcia. Coming off his first UFC win in his third attempt, the former Combate Americas lightweight champion has amassed a solid record while solidifying himself as one of Mexico’s top MMA prospects.
Ronson is more than aware of his opponents credentials and will look to prove he’s simply on a different level come fight night.
“When I got the fight offer, I watched Garcia’s last fight because you’re only as good as your last performance,” Ronson explained.
“I watched that and I thought there’s a lot of things that I would have done a lot better than his opponent. I felt that if I was in there I would have crushed Garcia. He showed me what he does when he feels like he’s losing or he needs to get a win, which is going for that takedown, just repeated high crotch and double leg attempts. It’s not really doing much damage, just showing a form of control and chewing up the clock.”
Although Ronson’s most recent first round win over Nicolas Dalby was overturned to a no-contest, there’s no denying it was one of the best performances and arguably the biggest moment of his career up to that point.
After stepping up on short notice, that fight proved Ronson is more than capable of competing at the highest level.
“I’m confident in my punching power at 170, and especially at 155. I lay dudes out,” Ronson said.
“Even though Rafa Garcia is apparently tough, he’s never been stopped. I’ve been the first guy to do that to a lot of people. Nicolas Dalby is a big strong welterweight, but he didn’t surprise me or overwhelm me. I’ve grappled some big dudes in the past. I don’t think there’s anything Garcia can show me I haven’t already experienced and overcome.”
Ronson has plenty of respect for the skill level and the heritage of his opponent, but gained even more confidence heading into this weekend’s bout when comparing himself to the man who most recently defeated Garcia inside the octagon.
“I would absolutely destroy Chris Gruetzemacher if I fought him. He’s going to be a guy I call out after I smash Garcia,” Ronson said.
“When it comes to Rafa Garcia though, you can’t ever discredit the toughness of a Mexican fighter. It’s been proven time and time again. The thing is though, everybody has an off switch, just nobody has found it yet on him. Garcia does have some power, he’s shown that in his previous fights, but he’s got too many flaws, too many holes in his game. He’s never really been tested and I’m going to expose him on the 16th.”