Ross Pearson is a great example of a fighter who there’s nothing “wrong” with. He’s a good striker (+1.03 significant strikes per minute) with good takedown defense (81 percent). He’s 7-3 in the UFC and none of his losses were blowouts – in fact, one of his losses was to Edson Barboza, and it could be argued Pearson did enough to deserve the decision there. There is no glaring hole in his game.
At the same time, Pearson doesn’t have the exceptional talent needed to be a top fighter in the lightweight division either. He absorbs strikes at a higher rate than I would like to see (3.09 per minute), he doesn’t have great knockout power, he doesn’t go for takedowns often, and he has no interest in submissions. Pearson is a good “sprawl and brawl” type of fighter but that’s about it.
In this fight, Pearson is taking on Diego Sanchez, a fighter who probably should be on a five-fight losing streak. Sanchez won decisions against Takanori Gomi and Martin Kampmann that created an uproar in the MMA community. There may have been some people who sided with Sanchez in those fights, but they were in the minority if so. Besides those fights, Sanchez lost to Jake Ellenberger, Gilbert Melendez, and Myles Jury. Those are five very tough opponents (although Gomi is closer to an average UFC lightweight these days) but Sanchez was out-performed in all five fights.
The good news for Sanchez is that Pearson is not as good a fighter as the likes of Kampmann, Ellenberger, Melendez, and Jury. The bad news is that Pearson is pretty much an upgraded version of Gomi. Pearson and Gomi are both sprawl and brawl fighters, but Pearson has better takedown defense (81% to 65%) and a better significant strike margin (+1.03 to +0.51). Since Sanchez was out-struck by Gomi (81 to 65) it seems that Pearson will be able to do exactly the same thing.
Sanchez’s problems as a fighter are obvious, but it’s worth elaborating about them. Sanchez is a fighter with virtually no effective defense. He can’t defend strikes and he can’t defend takedowns. He also struggles badly to land takedowns of his own. He’s landed just 21 percent of his takedown attempts in the UFC, and infamously went 0 for 27 in takedowns in his championship fight against B.J. Penn.
For the most part, Sanchez wins in one of two ways. Either he out-paces an opponent who is not a good striker (Clay Guida) or he takes advantage of an exhausted opponent to win with superior conditioning late (Paulo Thiago). Pearson is both a good striker with good conditioning, so it’s difficult to see Sanchez finding a way to out-pace him here.
Of course, there is a third way Sanchez wins, and that’s by winning a decision he doesn’t deserve. For some reason, Sanchez’s style of ineffective aggression seems to convince MMA judges that he’s the better fighter. I’m concerned about the potential for another bad decision in this fight for a couple reasons.
First, Pearson is not particularly difficult to hit as mentioned. Second, this fight is taking place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, home of Jackson/Winklejohn MMA and the place Sanchez has trained for a very long time now. If Sanchez is able to land a decent number of strikes, and he has the crowd behind him and rooting for him, and the judges are already inclined to give him a decision victory… it seems like a recipe for Sanchez winning yet another fight that he shouldn’t.
I’m picking Pearson to win this fight because he really is the better fighter here and I can’t go against that. Just know that if Sanchez wins this fight by decision, nobody is going to be less surprised about it than me.
Pick: Ross Pearson by decision