Those who have read this blog for a while should know how much I like Edson Barboza. I feel that Barboza is a future superstar in the lightweight division, to the point that I ranked him #1 on my list of the top prospects in the UFC back in May. There are a couple of reasons for doing so. First and foremost is Barboza’s SILVA score. As much as I subjectively like watching Barboza’s fighting style, I can proclaim his awesome abilities with more confidence, as Barboza currently has the 5th highest SILVA score in the lightweight division in MMA, and 3rd highest in the UFC lightweight division. Where else are you going to see Edson Barboza touted as the UFC’s third best lightweight, behind Gray Maynard and Frank Edgar?
The other reason is that Barboza has a fantastic skill set. Because Barboza arguably has the best striking in the division (a claim I would back up by pointing out his 25-3 record in professional Muay Thai), his wrestling game only needs to be focused on defense instead of offense, although he has landed four takedowns in his two UFC fights. Thus far, his takedown defense has been very solid, although Barboza has yet to fight a really high-level wrestler in the UFC. Indeed, a great wrestler may well be Barboza’s foil, but thus far, he’s been able to shut down takedown attempts with relative ease. And not only is Barboza competent on the ground, he’s actually shown some submission offense, beating Lee King by anaconda choke in his third career MMA fight. So not only is Barboza a fantastic striker, he has a full-fledged, well-rounded MMA game that makes his striking all the more effective.
Barboza’s opponent at UFC 134 will be British lightweight and TUF 9 winner Ross Pearson. Like Barboza, Pearson is a fighter whose primary motivation is to stand and strike with his opponents. Unlike Barboza, Pearson hasn’t shown a special talent in doing so. While Pearson has competed twice as much as Barboza (16 fights to 8), he has half the TKO wins (only 3 against Barboza’s 6). And while Pearson was able to strike well enough to win decisions against Andre Winner, Dennis Siver, and Spencer Fisher, it was actually a strike from Cole Miller that led to Pearson being submitted in his only UFC loss so far.
What Pearson can claim in his favor is that he hasn’t been out-struck in a single UFC fight yet. That’s a claim that Edson Barboza actually can’t make, as Barboza was out-struck by Anthony Njokuani at UFC 128. But I would say that this is where the concept of adjusting for the opponent should be kept in mind. According to Fight Metric, Njokuani out-landed his last opponent, Andre Winner, 116 to 15 in Significant Strikes. None of Njokuani’s opponents, besides Barboza, have landed more than 17 such strikes in a fight, but Barboza landed 46. It also needs to be pointed out that not all Significant Strikes are created equal; Barboza landed the harder strikes against Njokuani, including a spinning hook kick to the head that left Njokuani clearly staggered in the closing seconds of the fight.
The point is that, on paper, Barboza has the better striking pedigree, and should have a much more diversified striking game than the boxing-oriented striker in Ross Pearson.
The ground game? Well, I completely dismissed any possibility of that being a factor in my preview of Dan Hardy vs. Chris Lytle. For 14 minutes in that fight, I was proven correct, until a desperate Hardy shot in and was caught in a Lytle submission. For this fight, I fully expect that both guys will want to strike, but both guys have landed takedowns in their UFC careers. Pearson landed three takedowns against Spencer Fisher in his last fight, although I suspect that those were more to throw Fisher off his game than to search for a submission of any kind. Neither Barboza nor Pearson really have much of a history of playing the ground game, but I won’t dismiss the possibility again.
SILVA PREDICTION: EDSON BARBOZA (46.54) OVER ROSS PEARSON (29.57)
I told Andre Winner to take Anthony Njokuani to the ground for their fight at UFC 132, and naturally, Winner didn’t follow my advice. He stood with Njokuani, and suffered a three-round beating. I don’t think Pearson is as hopeless in the striking game here as Winner was, but I do think this is a horrible style match for him. Edson Barboza is a multi-dimensional striker, a fighter who uses punches, knees, and kicks, and has serious KO power. Ross Pearson is much more limited, and if he decides to test Barboza’s striking, he’s going to be at a serious disadvantage from the outset. Barboza has to be the pick to win this fight.