Two rival Ultimate Fighter coaches will actually fight each other for the first time in over a year tomorrow night (Dec. 14, 2012) as former Aussie lightweight contender George Sotiropoulos takes on TUF season nine winner Ross Pearson in the main event of UFC on FX 6. What's the key to victory for both men? Find out below.
Record: 14-4, 7-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Sotoripoulos has made a name for himself by being one of the few fighters not named Shinya Aoki to utilize the rubber guard effectively during a fight, and he even got a chance to fight Aoki in his pre-UFC career, losing via disqualification following a pretty nasty groin strike. After a stint as a welterweight on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season six, losing in the semifinals.
After TUF, Sotiropoulos got off to a tremendous start in the UFC, scoring seven straight victories and putting himself on the verge of title contention before a planned showcase bout against Dennis Siver at UFC 127 in his home country of Australia backfired in a big way and he lost a decision. His negative momentum continued at UFC 132 when he was destroyed by a Rafael dos Anjos right haymaker in just 59 seconds.
Injuries have kept the Aussie sidelined for over a year, but he'll have an opportunity to return with a vengeance after coaching an international season of TUF "The Smashes" as he battles his rival coach Ross Pearson tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Sotiropoulos is decent on the feet, but his chin strength is not passing the test of time and it would probably be dangerous for him to fight Pearson standing for the full 15 minutes.
Thankfully, the Aussie has some of the best ground skills in the entire lightweight division. The key will be getting the fight there as Pearson has shown some solid takedown defense when he's needed to.
Look for Sotiropoulos to stand with Pearson briefly and then try to close the distance with a clinch. If he can work a trip or throw from the inside, Pearson could a sitting duck. "The Real Deal" has been submitted in the past, but it was after Cole Miller first hurt him standing and pounced. Sotiropoulos will likely need to attack constantly if he wants to put Pearson away and he'll really have to focus on his hip pressure to keep the Brit from escaping back to his feet.
Record: 13-6 overall, 5-3 in the UFC
How he got here: Ross Pearson infamously planned to be a bricklayer, but after training in some martial arts, he decided to make a very severe change in careers. After building up a respectable 8-3 record in England, he was invited to participate in season nine of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), which pitted UK fighters against Americans.
The lightweight cruised through the season, improving each time out and would go on to defeat Andre Winner in the finale to capture the TUF 9 lightweight contract.
Pearson made a splash in the UFC 155 pound division, winning his first three bouts before losing in a rather large upset to Cole Miller at UFC Fight Night 22. He briefly got back on track against veteran Spencer Fisher but would go on to lose a very close decision to Edson Barboza in Brazil last summer.
The loss to Barboza fueled a decision to drop down to featherweight and he also started spending much more time at Alliance MMA in San Diego. His run at 145 had mixed results, trading a win and a loss, which prompted the decision to return to lightweight.
After coaching against Sotiropoulos for TUF The Smashes, he'll hopefully return to the division with authority. .
How he gets it done: Pearson's game almost exclusively revolved around forward pressure and tight-compact boxing. He'll occasionally use his solid wrestling to take opponents down and work ground and pound, but I don't think he'll be looking to do that against Sotiropoulos, who would likely be able to eat him up.
Expect to see "The Real Deal" constantly moving forward, looking to cut off Sotiropoulos against the fence and then fire away with crisp punches. As long as he can keep the Aussie moving backwards, he should be winning rounds.
No matter what happens, he should keep his hands up and his guard tight. He's been hurt in the stand-up before and while Sotiropoulos doesn't have a ton of power, he's got reach on Pearson and he can accumulate damage if he's not careful.
Expect to see Pearson try to win a war of attrition here as he's got a good shot of coasting to a decision on the feet if he keeps moving forward.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight has to be the extended layoff for Sotiropoulos as well as his age. He was a contender two years ago, but mixed martial arts is a young man's game and it caught up to him quickly especially with the dos Anjos knockout defeat. At 35 years old, he could be in some trouble here if he's not careful, particularly if he comes out slow or extra rusty after 17 months away from the Octagon. He can't get off to a slow start or he may never even get an opportunity to heat up.
Bottom Line:These are two veteran lightweights with some serious skill. Both fighters are capable of exciting finishes and both can be finished. On top of that, they have some pretty serious animosity towards each other to go along with the national pride of UK vs Australia. That's a pretty vitriolic combination. There's some potential for some highly entertaining exchanges if the fight goes to the ground although if it stays on the feet for the entire fight, Sotiropoulos could outpoint on the feet or Pearson could simply pressure him to death. The odds of this fight being solid are pretty good.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 6? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!