In the fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world of mixed martial arts, hardship—and the ability to overcome—are common factors every fighter experiences. Whether this adversity occurs while enduring the rigors of training or from challenges the opposition brings when the cage door closes, once a fighter begins to veer off course it can be a difficult task getting things back to square.
Resurgences are few and far between in the fight game, but Aaron Simpson is determined to get his career back on track. "A Train" has spent most of his life competing on wrestling mats around the world, and if there is one thing "the grind" has taught him, it is how to get back to his feet when the pressure is on.
Despite getting off to a fast start during which Simpson claimed victory in his first eight showings, the following eight outings came with mixed results. The Power MMA co-owner went 4-4 over that run, coming up short in two of his final three bouts under the UFC banner.
Following his loss to Mike Pierce at UFC on FX 5, the former Arizona State University wrestling standout and the sport's biggest promotion parted ways. Simpson signed with the World Series of Fighting shortly after.
The 38-year-old Arizona-native is looking to gain traction with the Ray Sefo-led organization, and Simpson will have his first opportunity to do so when he faces fellow veteran Josh Burkman this Saturday night at WSOF 2 in Atlantic City.
"I'm excited about fighting for the World Series," Simpson told Bleacher Report. "They are doing the right things to advance their company and their brand. The organization is in their infant stages but I think it's going to be a cool thing. I'm just excited to go see what it's all about. More than anything though, I want to perform for them and do my part to help grow this company.
"In this fight with Josh I have to be ready for everything. He's pretty aggressive on his feet and goes hard for takedowns. He has solid control when he gets on top and is overall a really well-rounded fighter. I'm expecting a little bit of everything from him and I have to be ready for whatever comes my way.
"It's a good test for me," Simpson added. "This is my first fight back since losing to Mike Pierce and I'm motivated to get after him. I'm bringing a highly motivated, action-packed fight and I believe Josh will as well. I think fans can expect a great fight where a lot of different action happens all over the cage."
Over the past decade, it has become common practice for fighters who exit the UFC fold to immediate hit the smaller promotions on the regional circuit, looking to score a quick win or two. Fighters do this in the hopes of earning an invitation back to the sport's biggest stage, but Simpson didn't believe this was the best route to travel.
Knowing his former promotion is heavy on the roster side of things, Simpson decided against the regional route and chose to pursue an endeavor that would allow him not only room to grow, but the opportunity to work consistently. He believes the WSOF fit those needs perfectly and is looking to do his part to push the organization forward.
"The door to the UFC just isn't open at this point," Simpson said. "I could have gone and fought at a small show, had one fight and asked Joe Silva to let me back in, but the UFC has so many fighters on their roster, and they have to try to keep all of them active. With that situation, getting back in right away might not have happened. I'm not 25 years old where I can sit around and wait or do other things to make a living. I have a family to feed and sitting around wasn't an option.
"I signed a four-fight deal with the World Series, and at this point I'm on board looking to help them because they are helping me. It is a mutual benefit for both of us. They appear to have a bright future and hopefully they continue to make the right moves.
"I think other MMA organizations in the past have gotten ahead of themselves and that is why they failed. Promotions have to spend money to make money and do the right things to promote correctly. World Series appears to be willing to do that so we'll see. Signing a deal with NBC Sports Channel was a big move for them. It is a three-year deal and a solid commitment on NBC's part. That has to give them a little confidence in what they are doing at WSOF."
As a lifelong athlete, Simpson understands the importance of continued progression. He's been competing in mixed martial arts for over a decade, and while his wrestling pedigree has provided the foundation for his success, Simpson knows developing the other aspects of his skill set is a key factor to his future in the sport.
While the process of improvement in mixed martial arts comes from grueling hours spent inside the gym, the education is what motivates Simpson, and he pushes himself to reach a standard which goes beyond the measure of wins and losses.
"Winning is ultimately the number one goal because if you lose your paycheck is cut in half," Simpson said. "But in addition to winning, it's about me going out there and doing my absolute best. I think that is always important. I want to be a good role model for my kids and be an example for others because they know I get out there and go hard.
"There is more to this sport than just fighting, and being a role model is important to me. But winning is the ultimate goal and I work hard to put on an exciting fight and to get my hand raised at the end.
"There is always room for progression and developing new skills in your training," he added. "Learning is the exciting part of this sport for me. In a sport like basketball, you reach a certain point where there is nothing new you can learn because there are only so many ways to shoot the ball. In MMA, there are so many techniques, attacks, and ways to end a fight—it has always been intriguing for me."
This Saturday night, Simpson will be looking to kick off the next chapter of his career by defeating Burkman. It will be the first challenge he faces under the WSOF banner, but with a multi-fight deal in place, there will be plenty more to come. While the organization's welterweight roster is still filling out, a recent high-profile signing could provide an interesting matchup down the line.
WSOF made the MMA media headlines when they picked up former top-ranked UFC welterweight contender Jon Fitch. The AKA staple and Simpson were scheduled to cross paths last July until Fitch suffered an injury which forced him to withdraw from the fight.
Simpson's focus is locked on his bout with Burkman this weekend, but a potential clash with Fitch is certainly on his radar. While a potential scrap with the former Purdue University wrestling standout is something he is excited about, Simpson believes the WSOF signing top-level talent is a clear indicator they are serious about becoming a major player in the fight game.
"I'm excited that Jon has signed with the World Series," Simpson said. "That shows the organization is moving forward because Jon is one of the best in the world. He's earned it and definitely shouldn't have been cut from the UFC in my opinion. I think that's a travesty more than anything. He's a hard-nosed fighter and that was a bout I trained very hard for but it fell through. I respect the guy and I think we would put on a good show for people."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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