Photo by Al Bello via Getty Images
The season nine winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) pushed a hard pace for three consecutive rounds before dropping a split decision to the hometown favorite, Barboza.
How much of a "hometown" fighter he was could be in question because this was actually Barboza's first professional fight outside the United States.
Regardless, this was definitely a bout worthy of the $100,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus and both fighters' stock raised when it was all over. What was the strategy of both men and what happens next?
Pearson started strongly, pressing forward aggressively and putting Barboza on the defensive, constantly having to try to counter while moving backwards. It was a terrific gameplan, very similar to what he did when he defeated Dennis Siver early last year, but the key difference was the fact that Barboza was quicker, more explosive and a little more dymanic that Siver.
Regardless, the Brazilians strikes definitely had less zip on them and Pearson kept his hands up, blocking most of the attacks that Barboza sent his way.
In the second round, however, Barboza found an opportunity. He caught a body kick, threw one of his own and then followed with a slick 1-2 combination, the right hand actually dropping "The Real Deal."
To his credit, Pearson immediately popped back to his feet and continued with the same gameplan, but from this point on in the fight, the knockdown would haunt him. His punches had just a little less on them and it appeared that Barboza was at least matching him in power.
The third round was nearly impossible to score, neither man scored a knockdown and Pearson continued with the same style that won him the first round, although his Brazilian foe used terrific footwork to avoid ever being pinned against the cage. Barboza also stuffed all three of TUF winner's takedown attempts that he had attempted to use to "steal" the end of each of the three rounds. His sprawl looked terrific.
When it was all said and done, the judges awarded Barboza a split decision that literally could have gone either way.
For Ross Pearson, you can't really fault his performance. He came in as the underdog and he far-exceeded expectations, actually winning the fight on many observer's scorecards. This was a perfect example of a gameplan being executed to the point where two fighters were completely evenly matched. He shouldn't get punished for this loss and will likely face another top mid-level lightweight in his next bout.
For Edson Barboza, he did a terrific job of fighting while on the defensive. While he wasn't give much space to showcase his flashy arsenal of kicks, he still managed to sneak a few excellent attacks in (like the picture above). Barboza continues to develop and he's definitely a fighter to keep an eye on moving forward. His defensive sprawl looked incredible against Pearson and that's a very good sign if he can continue to progress like that against the elite wrestlers at the top of the division.
Don't be surprised to see Barboza score a fight with Donald Cerrone next or a potential dream match-up with fellow gifted striker John Makdessi. If Cole Miller isn't dropping to featherweight yet, that could also be a possibility especially if the UFC doesn't want to rush him.
So who do you think won the fight last night, Maniacs? It was one of the closest decisions of 2011. Did the judges get it right?