Exclusive Interview With Cage Warriors Welterweight Champion Ross Houston
By Jon Prentice
This past weekend MMA fans were treated one of the greatest title fights in Cage Warriors history as Ross “The Hitman” Houston (8-0) took on Stefano Paterno (12-3-1) for the welterweight title at Cage Warriors 98. The fans in attendance at Birmingham’s Genting Arena, and those watching around the world, were treated to a fantastic five round war that eventually saw Houston take the win via split decision (48-47, 48-47, 46-48).
After a few days recovery and celebration, I caught up with the new Cage Warriors welterweight world champion – Houston, to discuss the fight and what the future holds for the SBG Inverness fighter:
“I’m a bit sore you know, I’m just about healing up now. I was sore for the next couple of days, bit of a concussion, but it was all worth it for the belt” Houston said of his condition several days out from the contest.
I asked “The Hitman” his thoughts when he heard himself described as the Cage Warriors welterweight champion of the world:
“Mate it sounds absolutely amazing. It’s those 8 years hard work paid off. I said in the build up to the fight that I would do it, and I believed everything I said but it still feels a little surreal now”.
Houston was not only overjoyed with the fact that he had won the belt, but also the fact that he had treated the fans to arguably the best title fight in Cage Warriors history, a statement resonated by Cage Warriors chief Graham Boylan:
“It’s a weird one. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time during the fight but then afterwards I saw that Graham had tweeted saying it was the best welterweight fight he had seen, then other people were saying stuff like that. I am buzzing man, although I don’t want to have too many fights like that as it isn’t too good for the old noggin”.
“I’m just glad as that was my most high-profile fight ever and it had a lot of eyes on it so I am just happy that it was entertaining more than anything. I’d rather have an entertaining fight that is touch and go than drag out a boring unanimous decision. This fight has been good for raising my stock a bit, not that is something I particularly go in there looking to do, but it all helps”.
The fight was a relatively even back and forth contest, with Houston looking like he was putting his foot on the gas and pulling away come the third round, however, Paterno landed a huge shot in round 4 that almost put The Hitman away, a shot that he doesn’t remember all too well:
“I was absolutely gone man, I can’t remember anything, I don’t even remember getting hit” Houston stated. “Looking back I sort of remember stepping back and being like man my legs aren’t working, my body isn’t working and it is a weird feeling. I have seen it happen on TV but it is weird when it happens to you, literally everything just shuts off. It’s the weirdest thing I have ever felt”.
“Once I hit the ground it was almost good as I could grab something and try and tie him up which was better than being standing, wobbling about in no mans land. On the ground I was in familiar territory and could grab a leg or an underhook and that kind of gave me a reference point. But yeah, it was a good shot by him, I felt I was in control and stepping up a gear in and worked to full mount but he got up and I kind of got frustrated and tried walking him down and not respecting his range”.
The now former champion Stefano Paterno, is known for cutting little to no weight to reach the 170lbs welterweight limit, however despite Houston having the size advantage going into the fight, he was surprised by the power Paterno held, especially as the fight hit the Championship rounds:
“Yeah he hit quite hard, especially his jab which shocked me. He started using his jab a lot towards the end after he had hit me with that big shot. He had good timing, he had fast hands and with speed comes power. He had a bit of sting behind his shots and I knew that he had quite a few KO’s on his record but I thought I would be able to keep it long and be a bit more comfortable, but yeah, he definitely had pop in his shots and if you saw my face afterwards he definitely did a bit of damage and messed up my face quite a bit. Props to him man he is a beast and I’m glad I have that scalp underneath my belt now”.
Having watched the fight back, there are a number of areas of his game that Houston was pleased with, but as all true champions do he has already spotted areas that he can improve upon going forward:
“What pleased me is that I liked from a skills point of view that I had worked quite a lot on that back snap kick, it’s kind of an unsung hero. It’s a lot more effective in fight than it looks on the camera. I started using it quite a lot after doing some sparring with Leon Edwards down at Renegade, he uses it a peach, so I was like that thing’s nasty I’m adding it to my game. I’m glad I got to use that in my fight and I am going to use it going forward and work my game around it”.
“I also guess I am happy that I was able to come back from that shot the way I did and keep the pace on him. Some people when they get caught with a big shot, their instant reaction is to back off and that’s when their opponent smells blood and goes in for the kill. I made a conscious effort of putting it on him even though I was hurt”.
“To work on? Maybe I loop my punches a little too much sometimes, I need to straighten them out a bit as I let him get into my territory a little bit by doing that. I need to concentrate a lot on my straight punches and keeping everything long. That, and maybe not getting involved in a scrap so much even though I don’t mind it going there. I can’t afford to do that going up the ranks as it is a risky game to play”.
As mentioned, Houston spent part of his training camp at Team Renegade in Birmingham with the likes of Tom Breese and Leon and Fabian Edwards, a move he will definitely be looking to make regularly for his training camps going forward:
“I think that I will make that a regular you know. I have trained down there a couple of times now. I feel really welcome there, they are a nice bunch of lads, really welcoming and I think that’s the key thing, you have got to enjoy your training. They are absolute animals down there and I want to be training with people who are better than me, who are going to push me and who I am going to learn off. I think for welterweights and middleweights it is probably the best place in Europe right now for prospects with the likes of Leon, Fabian and Tom Breese, then there are all the other guys…..it’s an awesome gym”.
Despite the fight being a very close affair and one Houston thought he had done enough to win, he was nervous as the judges scorecards were announced and he realised it had gone to a split decision:
“I thought it would just be a unanimous decision. I thought I edged it, either 4-1 or 3-2 at worst. It’s just that 4th round and how you score it. He knocked me down about 3 and a half minutes into the round but I had smashed him up until that point. I don’t think that round was a 10-8 round. I thought I took the fight and I would have been heartbroken if I lost”.
Following the win, Houston told me that he headed straight for a night on the town to celebrate with his friends and family, rather than to the hospital like he probably should have:
“We went straight to Revolution. I’m not sure I should have as I really should have gone to the hospital as I was concussed. I had a lot of family, mates and my girlfriend come and support me so I wanted to catch up with all these people. Since then me and my girlfriend have had every takeaway possible as food is the major thing I miss preparing for a fight. Pizza, McDonalds, Chinese, Indian we have had them all, maybe a chippy next and that will probably be it”.
Going forward, Houston is not averse to defending his Cage Warriors title, but is ultimately hoping for a call up from the UFC:
“To be honest, the UFC is the goal. I want to keep moving up but I am never against defending it, it just depends which comes first. I have spoken to my manager and we got a plan and we will see what happens. There is talk of a rematch with Paterno, I know Dalby is fighting again soon, the welterweight division is stacked at the minute. I have got to be selfish though now in sticking to my guns and doing what is best in getting me to the UFC. So yeah, we will see what happens”.
A big thanks to Ross for his time following the victory, and if anyone hasn’t had a chance to watch the fight yet then do, you will not be disappointed!