UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem card will be shown on Spike TV this Friday night at 9:00 p.m. ET. The broadcast will feature Ross Pearson's featherweight debut against Junior Assuncao and a lightweight scrap between former WEC lightweights Anthony Njokuani and Danny Castillo.
Ross Pearson (12-5) vs. Junior Assuncao (13-4)
Pearson was given little to no chance leading up to his UFC 134 match with Muay Thai assassin Edson Barboza. Despite turning in a gutsy and ultra-competitive performance -- and one entirely contested in Barboza's area of specialty -- the former TUF winner decided to take the plunge down to featherweight following the split-decision defeat.
The Team Rough House boxer has been solid since beating Andre Winner at the TUF 9 Finale. He stopped veteran Aaron Riley with punches and out-dueled German kickboxer Dennis Siver on the feet before Cole Miller clocked him with a looper. Pearson rebounded with a mature performance over Spencer Fisher before the razor-thin loss to Barboza.
Junior Assuncao, the older brother of the UFC's Raphael Assuncao, is a member of the Hardcore Gym and has been competing since 2004. He had a three-piece stint in the UFC in 2006-07 where he was rear-naked choked by top-shelfers Kurt Pellegrino and Nate Diaz with a win over David Lee sandwiched in between.
After his release, Assuncao found victory in eight of his nine following fights, culminating with a successful return to the Octagon as a featherweight against Eddie Yagin at UFC 135. Assuncao is rather brash and confident but walks his talk with a unique and effective set of skills. He's a BJJ brown belt and "Professor of Capoeira", the latter adding some panache and unpredictability to his more traditionally based Muay Thai.
Match up analysis in the full entry.
I don't think I can get away with saying that Pearson has an under-rated boxing game after the Barboza fight. He's unusually comfortable holding his ground in the pocket and dodging blows with upper body movement in order to slice counters. He excels at close-range trading and has a knack for needling short, six-inch punches at phone-booth distance.
Generally, fighters that prefer close-quarters combat have a tendency to be primitive brawlers, but Pearson is more of an artist with an air of technical fluidity. While Miller showed that his defense is far from impenetrable, Pearson deserves high marks for his head movement, chin, footwork, grasp of striking range and punching diversity. His high pace, clinch savvy and sound wrestling are other valuable assets, and he strikes me as an encouraging work in progress that we've yet to see the best of.
Assuncao has a palpable swagger that's actually pretty well deserved. He has sixteen years of Capoeira training under his belt, he is one of three brothers whom enjoy successful MMA careers, he trains under a great coach at a great camp and -- even though he might be empowered by having nothing to lose -- I sense that he's cherishing this opportunity to shine in the big show.
He's an intelligent and mentally strong fighter who oozes confidence. Assuncao is also a very complete martial artist: the Capoeira-Thai medley of his stand up makes him a skillful and semi-unorthodox threat on the feet, his grappling is well adapted to MMA and replete with a litany of subs and sweeps and he's a capable scrambler as well. His wrestling and clinch skills, where he's the least proficient, are still adequate. He's not much of a power striker but his variety and cautious tenacity present a formidable challenge.
Pearson's decision to drop to 145 came as a surprise to me. It's almost as if the tactic is becoming more popular because it signifies "a new beginning" and makes sense on a short-term scale. There's no shame in his two UFC losses (even though the Miller knockout was an unexpected disappointment) and his four wins showed promising development. His quickness, agility and hand speed are integral to his style but those traits will be somewhat diminished by the elevated pace of the featherweights. The multiplier in size and strength that he might enjoy isn't directly conducive to his boxing-centric offense. Pearson's two biggest advantages -- boxing and wrestling -- will be drastically influenced by his condition after the weight cut, so that's a key point of emphasis.
Pearson's rightfully favored on the betting lines and my pick to win, but Assuncao is the type of fighter who would loving nothing more than to pee in everyone's Cheerios, and has the skills and mentality to do it. He's long-limbed with quick kicks and punches, his atypical striking tactics can be difficult to counter, his wide, sweeping kicks are ideal against fighters with vivacious head movement and his submission arsenal could wreak havoc if he's able to control Pearson's posture from guard.
My Prediction: Ross Pearson by decision.
Anthony Njokuani (14-5) vs. Danny Castillo (12-4)
Two WEC crossovers collide in this striker vs. grappler affair at 155-pounds. Anthony Njokuani, a student of Muay Thai legend Saekson Janjira, is a dynamic and aggressive striker with fan-friendly kickboxing tactics. Vicious low kicks, punches and spinning-everythings have become an expected delicacy when he finds his range and rhythm. Though far from incompetent on the ground, it's clearly his Achilles heel as submissions account for three of his five career losses.
That said, only the WEC's premiere grapplers tapped him out (Donald Cerrone, Ben Henderson, Shane Roller) and those defeats were somewhat offset by his highlight-reel-worthy wins, such as the trio of stoppages over Bart Palaszewski, Muhsin Corbbrey and the beheading of a retreating Chris Horodecki. Njokuani has split results thus far in the UFC versus Barboza (decision loss) in his debut and Winner (decision win) in his last outing.
Danny Castillo went full-on beast mode in his last fight; a thorough first-round handling of Shamar Bailey bolstered by gargantuan takedowns and top-side brutality on the mat. Castillo has been a tough guy to assess: on the bright side, he destroyed Bailey, upset Joe Stevenson in his Octagon debut, finished Ricardo Lamas in the WEC and also handed Dustin Poirier his only loss; on the other end, he was stopped consecutively in matches against Shane Roller (rear-naked choke) and Anthony Pettis (head kick TKO) and rendered helpless underneath Jacob Volkmann's smothering top-game. Considering his level of opposition, the negatives are understandable.
Striking-wise, Castillo reminds me of a modern day Eugene Jackson. It might not be pretty, but he throws his hands with enough wild ferocity that it, at the very least, requires your full scope of attention. Njokuani will out-class him in a straight shootout but Castillo's raw power has to be respected, which serves as a distraction while he slips into the clinch to work his takedowns.
Njokuani will be anticipating the shot and can change everything by connecting once, and will eventually pick his spots to unload the cannons. I expect Castillo to keep his chin tucked well and time Njokuani when his feet are planted to connect in the clinch and exploit his grappling advantage.
My Prediction: Danny Castillo by TKO.