Sometimes a fighter’s nickname sums them up perfectly.
Cage Warriors welterweight champion Ross “The Hitman” Houston is a great example of this. A cold, contract killer, Houston cares little for collateral damage. If you get in the way of him and his targets, prepare to be taken out of the picture. He signs the contract, executes his plan and leaves with what he came for.
The Hitman’s most recent target would prove to be his most difficult to take out. Houston won the welterweight title at Cage Warriors 98 in Birmingham, defeating Stefano Paterno via a split decision. The fight was awarded the 2018 fight of the year in Cage Warriors as Ross was forced to dig deep to survive a late scare after Paterno caught him with his heavy hands.
One of the wildest title fights in Cage Warriors history.@HitmanHouston90 vs Stefano Paterno was a WAR! ⚔️
— Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) May 8, 2019
The contract killer endured Paterno’s flurry to keep his undefeated record intact and to claim the Cage Warriors title. Battling against the odds is nothing new to Houston, who stepped in to fight Aaron Khalid in a rematch at Cage Warriors 91 only a few days after his mother had passed.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance against Paterno, I think it was my biggest win in terms of on paper and what it got me but it was my worst performance. I’ve just shown that I’ve got the grit and the willpower to get through tough situations if it comes that way.
“A lot of fighters, you don’t know how they’re going to react when they come up to adversity – and that’s the fighter part, that’s why I kept banging on about my mental strength, I truly believe I’m the mentally strongest fighter on the planet and there’s nothing that’s going to phase me. Anything that’s thrown at me I’ll come through.
“I’m glad that was my last performance in a way because people look at that fight and it’s going to be a whole different animal when I step in there to beat Dalby.”
Shortly after winning the title, a huge fight was on the horizon for the Hitman. A title defence against a man who has held the title before and is the current interim champion, Nicolas Dalby. A defence in Copenhagen seemed on the cards but the Hitman was unhappy with the terms.
“I don’t care what people say, I’m the champion. Why should I travel to his backyard and defend it?”
Instead, Dalby battled Alex Lohore for the interim title and stopped him via TKO in the 4th round, though Houston was not impressed.
“Lohore made him look good, anyone could look good hitting a punch bag which is pretty much what Alex Lohore was that night. If I ever went against Lohore I’d put him away a lot quicker.”
Precision + power = the perfect KO 👏
— Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) March 10, 2019
In this time, the fight has been building. Houston has been away training, recovering from his war with Paterno and working on his new gym, HMAC – Highlands Martial-Arts Center. Houston and Dalby have exchanged words on social media and though Ross acknowledges it is a sport first, the idea of someone trying to stand in the way of him and his dreams is something he takes personally.
“I think he thinks he’s going to come in there and walk through me like my last eight opponents have. Maybe they look at my videos and fights and think this guy is not that good but it’s a whole different thing, the presence I bring to the cage, my mental strength, my pressure, my athleticism. I’m going to bully him.”
Houston’s dreams are to get to the UFC one day and considering Dalby had his own run in the UFC already, Ross believes a win against Dalby is the way to get there.
“Dalby is a step-up but that’s the sport we are in, if you’re not taking a step-up every fight than you’re doing something wrong. You don’t want to fight forever. Once I’ve beaten Dalby, I can’t see anyone else left for me to beat.”
Now the fight is finally here and it isn’t in Copenhagen like the challenger wanted or Glasgow like the champion wanted, instead it is set to take place at the Eventim Apollo in London.
“I ain’t dancing for no one so best do it in Glasgow or on neutral territory so that’s what’s happened. It doesn’t really matter where, he says I’m ducking him but we are going to see who’s running away on fight night.
“The fact that they call it the belt unification, that doesn’t phase me in the slightest. The fact it’s the biggest Cage Warriors card ever doesn’t both me in the slightest. On fight night, when the lights are on and the cameras are on, I feel like a whole different animal and I won’t be beaten on fight night when I’ve got another man standing in front of me and my dreams.”
— Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) June 23, 2019
With eight names already scratched out on the Hitman’s list, the next target is well and truly in his sights. Houston has said that he would go in there and pressure his opponents and they wouldn’t be able to cope with it and he hasn’t been wrong yet. Not only does he believe for certain that he will make it into the UFC, the champion believes he can become the first flagship MMA fighter for Scotland, something they haven’t really had yet.
“I’m going to back up my words and I’m going to show the world that the Scottish MMA scene is on fire. I’m just concentrating on Dalby right now but yeah the UFC is the goal and it’s going to happen. Mark my words.”
Ross Houston will look to defend his Cage Warriors welterweight title for the first time against Nicolas Dalby at Cage Warriors 106: Night of Champions on the 29th June at the Eventim Apollo, London.
Tickets are on sale HERE.
Words by Kyle Dimond.