This Saturday night (August 27, 2011), two highly decorated lightweights will duke it out on the main card of UFC 134 as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season nine winner Ross Pearson takes on undefeated striking specialist Edson Barboza.
Ross Pearson has performed admirably in his UFC career thus far and has made some smart decisions in his training, spending time at the AMA Fight Club in New Jersey to compliment his training at Rough House in the UK. It paid off with his most recent victory against Spencer Fisher and "The Real Deal" is looking to steal some of the hype behind the incredibly exciting Barboza on Saturday night.
Edson Barboza put on an incredible show in his most recent bout, a "Fight of the Night" winning performance against talented ex-WEC knockout artist Anthony Njokuani this past March. A victory over a TUF champion would really raise his stock in the crowded UFC lightweight division.
Will Pearson continue to get back on track against one of UFC's most promising lightweight prospects? Or will Barboza take a huge leap in his MMA career and blast the British bruiser?
Record: 12-4 overall, 4-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Cole Miller (UFC Fight Night 22)
How he got here: After cutting his teeth in the local UK circuit, Ross Pearson entered the ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) without much hype behind him. Pearson ran through the field, culminating in a terrific performance against tournament favorite Andre Winner in the finals.
Pearson showcased improved stand-up and grappling to defeat Winner and win the coveted six figure contract and then absolutely smashed veteran Aaron Riley in his first non-TUF bout in the UFC.
"The Real Deal" would follow up the Riley stoppage with clearly his most impressive showing of his young career, a signature win against current top lightweight contender Dennis Siver in which he outstruck the kickboxer.
With a wave of hype behind him, Pearson entered his UFC Fight Night 22 bout against TUF season five veteran Cole Miller with a lot of confidence and that may have betrayed him. Miller would catch the Brit on the chin, hurting him badly and then followed it up with a rear naked choke after pouncing on his wounded foe.
Pearson bounced back in his last fight, a dominant decision victory against massive UFC veteran Spencer Fisher and he's ready for another talented opponent to get him back among the upper echelon of the division.
How he gets it done: While Ross Pearson has made great strides in his striking, adding a solid jab and respectable boxing to his arsenal, he's really going to have to dip into his wrestling roots for this fight. Edson Barboza is a straight killer in terms of striking and if Pearson can't close the distance, this could be a long (or very short) night for him.
Expect to see Pearson use his footwork to cut off Barboza and corner him against the fence where he can utilize the clinch and neutralize the Brazilian's weapons. Pearson also has a strong wrestling base and it would be very interesting to see Barboza's ground game get tested in this fight.
Pearson should really look to counter any kick that Barboza throws with a takedown attempt. Even if it's not successful, it'll make the talented striker second guess himself. If he's able to put Barboza on his back, that's even better. Pearson is strong enough on the canvas to avoid a wild submission attempt and at least ride out a decision if he can keep the fight there.
Record: 8-0 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Despite being a very talented Brazilian fighter based in Rio de Janeiro, Edson Barboza has spent his entire MMA career fighting in the United States. Barboza absolutely tore his way through the local scene at Renaissance MMA and Ring of Combat, obliterating everyone with a stoppage including current M-1 champion Jose Figueroa with a first round knockout.
He made his UFC debut against Mike Lullo, and unfortunately for Lullo, he went to work with some absolutely brutal leg kicks. Lullo ate repeated kicks to the thigh and somehow managed to survive to the third round but he'd had enough after getting dropped again in the third round before the ref stopped the fight.
Barboza would follow up that performance with a tremendous showing against fellow striker Anthony Njokuani at UFC 128 this past March. The Brazilian fascinated the fans and media with a diverse array of kicks and strikes, eventually earning a tough decision victory against the WEC veteran in a "Fight of the Night" winning match.
He gladly accepted an important match-up against a well-rounded fighter like Pearson to help build his name in the UFC and get him on the fast track to the top of the division.
How he gets it done: Edson Barboza wants to keep this fight standing. There's no doubt about that.
"The Phenomenon" has earned many nicknames in his brief MMA career, but he's done almost all of his damage with his striking in the stand-up realm of MMA. He should expect to be tested against Pearson, an adequate striker but also a man with a penchant for taking fights to the ground.
Don't be surprised to see Barboza take his foot off the gas early as he tries to find holes in Pearson's stand-up that he can exploit. Leg kicks will be really important in this match-up as they'll take some steam out of Pearson's takedowns and explosiveness in getting the fight to the ground.
The main thing the Brazilian brawler needs to worry about it getting a little too aggressive in the stand-up and providing Pearson with a huge opening to take him to the canvas. Barboza didn't exactly light the world on fire when the fight went to the ground against Mike Lullo so it would probably be wise if he avoided that situation entirely.
The smartest thing for "The Armory"-trained fighter to do is to keep his distance and try to pick Pearson apart with his jab and quick combinations. If he can begin slipping strikes through the TUF-winner's defenses, he'll find that moment to really throw something nasty.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight will most certainly be Barboza's takedown defense. We all love his wild and incredibly exciting striking technique, but if he can't keep the fight standing and avoid Pearson's clinch and takedown attempts, it will be all for naught.
Hopefully he's been putting in a lot of time in working on keeping the fight on its feet, otherwise he could be in for a grueling 15 minutes that he'll regret for a long time.
Bottom Line: Surprisingly, this is Barboza's first time fighting in Brazil, but that won't stop him from having a ton of support from the local crowd as he still grew up in Rio. This fight has the potential to be incredible as both men are strong on the feet but there's also the possibility that we see a fifteen minute clinch and lay-and-pray-fest if Pearson tries to work a gameplan and avoid all the dangers that Barboza possesses. Keep your fingers crossed, ladies and gentlemen.
Who will come out on top at UFC 134? Tell us in the comments below!