Based on what Barboza has shown thus far, there's nothing to nitpick except his relative inexperience, but those questions surround every rising prospect. He finished all five of his opponents -- four in the first round -- to earn a shot at the lightweight title in the long standing feeder promotion Ring of Combat in Jersey.
There, he crippled a wily veteran in Marcelo Guidici with leg kicks in the opening frame, then treated Mike Lullo to a taste of the same in his Octagon debut, ending that one-side mauling in the third. A well deserved "Fight of the Night" performance followed in his high voltage kickboxing war with Anthony Njokuani, where Barboza demonstrated the breadth of his weaponry with a Muay Thai highlight reel.
Ross Pearson, winner of the U.S. vs. UK version of The Ultimate Fighter in 2009, is still fairly young and still improving. Pearson has been involved with myriad martial arts since he was a wee lad: he started Taekwondo at age six and earned his black belt at nine, reached the brown belt level in Judo at age twelve and started an amateur boxing career one year later.
He carried three losses into the show -- one against future UFC fighter Curt Warburton and another to cagey Wolfslair veteran Abdul Mohamed -- and, after defeating teammate Andre Winner in the finals, Pearson showed huge promise by winning three of his next four.
Fierce strikers Dennis Siver, Aaron Riley and Spencer Fisher all folded to Pearson. This makes it thoroughly bewildering that Cole Miller, who I'd assess as an inferior striker compared to those he beat, crumpled him with a hook and finished him with a choke.
You know the drill ... we'll reconvene after the break.
I had the pleasure of covering Barboza's debut cage-side, and it was a great example of how certain things don't translate through on the broadcast.
His glancing leg kicks snapped with a deafening thwack that echoed through the arena while the ones he connected with cleanly resounded in a dull, sickening thud.
His sprawl was frighteningly nimble and cat-like. He was crouched low and balanced to repel the takedown the instant Lullo dropped levels.
Barboza was also surprisingly tactical for a young fighter, switching to the high kick after nearly dismembering Lullo with a callous series of low kicks.
When it became painfully obvious that Lullo was overmatched standing, Barboza's sprawl was tight and consistent, and he even threw Lullo flat on his back when countering a few takedowns.
He has a frame like Jon Jones in that he's thin with a stretchy reach advantage (77"), but seems to have a wiry strength that belies his physique.
Pearson is a commendably diverse fighter with a technical boxing game.
To the right is Pearson's varied creativity with a busy output: he leads with a knee to the body and follows it with a right hook, and when Fisher backs out of the clinch, he pursues with consecutive left hooks.
Not missing a beat, Pearson immediately vaults into the pocket with a stiff one-two, resets briefly, then goes downstairs with a straight right.
He's a bit of a slow starter, but Pearson is the type of boxer who gradually finds his groove and starts firing on all cylinders as the fight progresses. You can see in the sequence above how he never lets Fisher gather his wits amidst the steady influx of different techniques.
He's active with head movement and footwork, mixes up his selection of strikes constantly and excels in taking his opponents out of their rhythm.
To the left is an absolutely beautiful angle-jab or short lead uppercut.
Fisher had been needling his straight left through, so Pearson swings his head around to the left and rotates his shoulders to penetrate the punch from close range and an unexpected angle.
Pearson has allowed a few too many through his defense: in the Fisher fight, some in the Siver fight, and it's how Miller dropped him as well.
I'm not so sure that it's a major weakness rather than just the standard hazards of being an aggressive striker. Barboza will determine that for us, as he's shown a knack for lancing fast punches through and will land often if Pearson is lax in protecting himself.
The betting lines and the general consensus from fans and media is that this is Barboza's fight. He's shown promise to be "the next big thing" as an exciting and effective striker, and I think we all want to witness him grow into something phenomenal.
If it weren't for Pearson's hiccup against Miller, he'd be my pick. Even though Barboza is more electric and flashy, I'd take Pearson's blue-collar boxing, under-rated wrestling and swarming, ceaseless pressure in a decision.
Barboza is seriously untested everywhere but standing; that's the only spot I'm confident in assuming that he's as unreal as he seems. His decision over Njokuani was a strong statement but extremely competitive and really could've gone either way.
In one scenario, I can see Pearson carefully picking his shots and manipulating him in the clinch, adding in some takedowns to vault ahead on the score cards while eating a survivable amount of strikes.
Of course, the other scenario is what everyone is expecting: Barboza reels off jaw-dropping kickboxing and catches Pearson's chin. His reach and quickness advantage will be key factors, so even though I almost talked myself out of it throughout this analysis, I'll go with the crowd -- but I wouldn't be surprised if Pearson defies the odds.
My Prediction: Edson Barboza by TKO
All gifs from Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com