Canadian John Alessio looks to celebrate birthday in style at UFC 148
It took 21 fights and 69 months for John (The Natural) Alessio to get back into the UFC. That's a career in itself for many fighters.
So he was less than happy with his decision loss to fellow Canadian Mark Bocek upon his return at UFC 145 in April.
"I did the best I could. I tried to bring the fight to him," said the lightweight from Duncan, B.C., who now makes his home in Las Vegas. "I felt like I was starting to get my stride in that third round. I really wish that it was a five-round fight. I think I would have come out on top.
"I feel like he was kind of done by the end of that third round and I was ready to do another two rounds."
It was not what Alessio had in mind while he made stops in Belgium, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S. on his way back to the UFC.
Along the way he fought in the WEC, MFC, ROF, Dream, Tachi Palace Fights, W-1, and the Score Fighting Series, to name just some of the circuits.
On Saturday, Alessio (34-15) gets another chance to try for his first UFC win in five tries when he takes on American Shane Roller at UFC 148 in Las Vegas for what will be the Canadian veteran's 50th pro fight.
Anderson Silva defends his middleweight title against Chael Sonnen in the main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Middleweight Patrick (The Predator) Cote and Ivan (The Pride of El Salvador) Menjivar, both from Montreal, are also on the main card.
"I've got a lot of motivation," said Alessio, who turned 33 Thursday. "I want to win that 50th fight. I want to win my first UFC fight and I want this for my birthday present."
Roller (10-6) is equally motivated. The former All-American wrestler from Oklahoma State has lost three straight in the UFC.
"I kind of feel like both of our jobs are on the line," said Alessio. "But I'm not focusing on that. I'm just focusing on entertaining and putting on the best fight possible."
His goal is to make the crowd and the UFC happy. Hopefully that comes with a win.
Alessio already won brownie points by taking the Bocek fight in Atlanta on just 18 days notice. Medicals and other red tape also cut into his preparation time.
"It was definitely a rush. Training, getting ready, everything. Time was of the essence," he said.
There was little time to focus on anything else but fitness. And when he got into the cage with Bocek, he faced a grinding opponent who looks to take people down to the ground where he can put his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to use.
Alessio spent plenty time of the ground. But he did not get damaged much. And he was clearly not happy when the final hooter sounded.
"He didn't hurt me at all," he said. "It was just frustrating. At first he tried to ground and pound a little bit but nothing really landed. And then after that, he was just basically trying to hold on and (get) position. And it was frustrating, because I really wanted to fight, I was there to put on a show.
"I got back into the UFC, I'm here to entertain. He was there to not lose, basically. ... I was there to win, I wanted to finish him. Very frustrating when a guy really doesn't want to engage and fight. Because when he's holding onto you, it's hard to fight back."
Despite the loss, Alessio is still on a bit of a run. He has won three of his last four fights and 10 of his last 12, with the only losses to Siyar Bahdurzada and Bocek.
Roller has good grappling skills but also won knockout of the night when he put Thiago Tavares to sleep in March 2011. Needing to put on a show himself to keep his UFC job, he may be more willing to engage.
"I sure hope so," said Alessio. "I prepared a lot of wrestling for this fight. I'm definitely ready for that if that's the way he's going to want to approach this fight. But yeah, in his fights he definitely does stand up a lot more than Bocek does. And I'm hoping to keep this fight standing. It's no secret that I'm going to be looking for a knockout.
"But I have a feeling once he tastes my power and I land a couple of really good shots on him, that he's going go right to his Oklahoma wrestling days and try to implement that game plan, because he's not going to want to continue to get hit by me."
Despite the outcome, Alessio has some good memories of his return to the UFC.
"Backstage before the fight, I'm preparing and I had nothing but a smile on my face. I was just so happy, there was no nerves, there was no nothing. It was just clear, like 'I'm ready. This is my time. I'm back in the UFC. I've worked so hard to get here.' I couldn't get the smile off my face."
Alessio's time in the UFC has been eventful. In his UFC debut, he fought Pat Miletich for the welterweight title, losing by submission at UFC 26 in June 2000.
Six years later, he lost a unanimous decision to Diego Sanchez at UFC 60.
After exiting the UFC in October 2006 on the back of a loss to Thiago Alves, Alessio switched back to the WEC and went 4-2 in his next six fights. One of those losses was to Carlos Condit, now the UFC interim champion, in a welterweight title fight.
In recent years, he has been willing to fight anyone, anywhere.
"Absolutely. And that still stands when I'm in the UFC," said Alessio. "I'll fight anybody. They can put anybody in front of me. I'll move up in weight class if they need me to. I'll fight at 185 (pounds) if they need me to at short notice.
"I'm a company man, I'm a fighter and I think a real fighter steps up to any challenge whether the odds are against him or not.
Alessio has had a proper training camp for this fights and relishes the fact that it's being held in his hometown. He can sleep in his own bed, eat his own food and make final preparations in his own gym.