After a pedestrian run at featherweight, TUF 9 winner Ross Pearson soldiers back to the lightweight class to face Aussie sub-specialist George Sotiropoulos in the featured attraction of tonight's UFC on FX 6
I was skeptical about UK pugilist Ross Pearson's (13-6) drop to featherweight. It's not that I thought he couldn't hack it, but the move seemed to be spurred more by the popular trend of getting a fresh start after underwhelming performances than a calculated strategy with substantial benefits. After all, starting with his victory over Andre Winner at the TUF 9 Finale, Pearson rattled off 3-straight as a lightweight before undergoing a 1-2 series with a demoralizing loss to Cole Miller (2nd-round submission) and a highly respectable split-decision defeat to striking phenom Edson Barboza in a competitive, back-and-forth brawl that was contested entirely on the feet.
Regardless, Pearson took a stab at 145-pounds and struggled with the speed of Junior Assuncao in an unconvincing decision win and added his name to home-run swinger Cub Swanson's recent list of KO victims. The featherweight trial might have been a worthwhile experiment but now the hard-nosed, technical boxer looks to get back in the 155-pound mix.
Concurrently with Pearson (circa 2009-2010), 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu rep George Sotiropoulos (14-4) was carving his way up the lightweight totem pole with aspirations of a future contender. Though his schedule was less encumbered by the fierce opposition Pearson encountered, Sotiropoulos streaked off to a 7-0 start in the UFC with 5 stoppages (4 subs, 1 TKO). The latter half of that run was indeed punctuated with commanding wins over Joe Stevenson, Kurt Pellegrino (both unanimous decisions) and sublime-eared brawler Joe Lauzon (2nd-round kimura).
The brakes were firmly applied in consecutive losses -- Dennis Siver by decision and Rafael dos Anjos by blistering KO -- and an injury coupled with his role as a TUF Smashes coach has sidelined him from competition since.
Pearson embodies the typical wrestle-boxing style yet his striking tendencies are not commonplace. "The Real Deal" is more of a boxing purist who throws crisp and accurate combinations from a tight and compact stance. He complements his punches with a wide breadth of angles, and fanatically keeps his hands glued to his chin and his head constantly moving. Pearson also excels at controlling range with artful in-and-out movement. While he's not known as a huge power puncher, Pearson has made the wise choice of staying on-balance and composed when he's throwing, making him more of a volume striker who rarely over-commits, over-extends himself or gets caught off-guard.
Sotiropoulos is a lanky submission specialist who furiously pursues nasty, limb-wrenching catches as opposed to taking the smooth finesse route. His kickboxing is fairly average and generally employed as a frenetically unloaded distraction to set up his takedowns. However, he doesn't have a strong wrestling background and relies on his high-paced tenacity to force a ground fight. That aspect of his game probably influences his success more than any other; he's usually in the driver's seat when he can shrink the gap and work his takedowns but struggles when he cannot.
And that's really the case in this match up too, as Sotiropoulos will be hard-pressed to out-strike a tactical marksman like Pearson. Pearson has the clear edge standing but will be at an equal disadvantage in grappling entanglements, which leaves the takedown battle as the pivotal key to which fighter is able to impose their will. Along with his cool and collected boxing traits, Pearson's solid wrestling acumen will have to be employed in reverse to keep himself free of Sotiropoulos' intentions to lock horns after his incoming swarm of strikes.
While 5 rounds leaves plenty of time for Sotiropoulos to do so, I feel Pearson's composed wrestle-boxing style is well suited to keep the Aussie at bay. The betting lines reflect how even this fight is but I feel Pearson's M.O. makes him the safer option.
My Prediction: Ross Pearson by decision.