Saturday night's Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Finale from the Palms Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada was a final chance for the participants of the show to prove they have what it takes to compete in the UFC. Throughout the last few weeks, many fans had regarded this season's roster as less than stellar. In fact, most fans believe that the eventual winners of the show would probably have a tough time breaking into the mid-echelon of their respective divisions. Did Ross Pearson and James Wilks prove on Saturday night that they could hang in their divisions?
The lightweight showdown between Ross Pearson and Andre Winner didn't go exactly as I had pictured it in my mind. My initial thoughts were that Pearson could lean on Winner in the clinch and work knees and dirty boxing to his benefit. While this did end up happening for much of the fight, Winner was a bit of a surprise in terms of being unable to execute any type of real strategy. Pearson was able to control Winner, land solid blows, and continually wear him down. While I wasn't overly impressed with the fight on paper, Pearson did a great job implementing his game plan.
Pearson reminds me of Paul Kelly. He has above average conditioning with more bulk than most lightweights within the division due to his shorter height. That extra bulk seems to translate into more power, and his endurance has shown in his fights on the TUF series and at the finale. My real concern for Pearson is when he meets a fighter within the division that is able to counter his clinch work and stifle him on the floor. Pearson's striking isn't great, and he could definitely be overwhelmed on the ground by a superior grappler, something the lightweight division isn't exactly shallow in.
James Wilks actually impressed me substantially. The conventional wisdom coming into the fight was that Johnson had the superior striking compared to Wilks. But Wilks shattered that myth immediately. Wilks was not only throwing solid, straight punches, but his accuracy was surprising. I've never thought Johnson was any type of world beater due to his weak defense standing, and Wilks took full advantage of that hole in Johnson's game.
What is the consensus thought on both Wilks and Pearson following their performances from Saturday evening? Do you believe one fighter has an edge over the other in terms of making an impact in the UFC? I would definitely go with James Wilks right now for his performance on Saturday night, and the lower rungs of the Welterweight division aren't terribly above his current skill set. With some more top training, he could potentially break into the middle of the pack in a year or two.
Pearson is a bit of a different story. He could potentially become a Gray Maynard-type of fighter if he actually had the wrestling acumen, but we wouldn't see that kind of skill set unless he truly devoted a lot of time to working with top wrestlers. Can Pearson beat guys like Mark Bocek, Matt Wiman, Cole Miller, Jeremy Stephens, Thiago Tavares, or even Paul Kelly? I think it's tough to sell right now. Bocek would be a solid matchup to test his submission defense, but Tavares would also be very tough. I think Pearson has a tough road ahead of him unless he can truly become dynamic.