It seems that, in a division filled with talented and exciting strikers, Ross Pearson has been somewhat overlooked. He deserves more recognition, because he brings a few things to the table rarely seen in MMA, and I don't just mean his Geordie accent.
In his book Championship Fighting (which can be found for free online), heavyweight boxing legend Jack Dempsey defines defense as "how to prevent a starting punch from landing on its target, and how to counter with a punch." The final part of that definition is very important. Defense is not effective in a fight unless it leads to offense. In fact, Jack says elsewhere that "the best defense in fighting is an aggressive defense. Each defensive move must be accompanied by a counter-punch or be followed immediately by a counterpunch." Now Jack's method of fighting instruction may be a little too cut-and-dry, but the idea is absolutely sound: if an opponent knows that you are only going to dodge his punches and offer no threat in return, then he will happily hunt for your head until, eventually, he learns your patterns and catches you.
Aggressive defense is key, and Pearson uses it like no other. As they say, "make him miss, and make him pay." If payment is what's required, then Ross Pearson is the debt collector.
1. Pearson and Sotiropoulos circle one another, jockeying for position.
2. G-Sot leads with a right hand, and Pearson slips it.
3. Sotiropoulos attempts to follow up with a left hook, but Pearson screws up his sense of distance. He pulls back for his own left hook and his head is suddenly out of harm's way.
4. 155 pounds of Englishman collide with G-Sot's jaw in the form of a left hook.
Notice that Pearson does not simply wag back and forth as so many MMA fighters are wont to do. His head movement is quick and deliberate, and it is ingrained into his punching technique. When Sotiropoulos throws his right, Pearson not only moves his head left, but drops his weight onto his left foot. From this lowered elevation, he is difficult to hit, and perfectly poised for the counter shot. The fact that he goes left hook for left hook with Sotiropoulos and remains completely unscathed, while putting Sotiropoulos down, shows the technicality with which Pearson throws his short, powerful punches.
UPPERCUTS, RISING HOOKS, & LEVEL CHANGES
Above I examined the distancing aspects of Pearson's favorite punch, the left hook. By pulling his weight back toward his right foot, he is able to land on his opponents without compromising his own defense. In addition to its defensive advantages, Pearson's hook is also very difficult to spot, until it smashes into the side of your mouth.
This is because Pearson throws what I call a rising hook, and what others refer to as a "shovel punch." In modern boxing, the left hook is typically taught as a completely horizontal strike. Even the great Freddie Roach instructs pupils to throw left hooks with the elbow high and the forearm in line with the shoulder.
Though Freddie throws his own left hook a little differently than he tells it, the point is that, at the moment of impact, this version of the punch has the elbow high. Pearson's left hook is a different story, and has more in common with the punches favored by old school masters such as Sugar Ray Robinson.
Like Ray's, Pearson's hook is tricky because it comes from beneath the opponent's line of sight. It also has the advantage of being able to punish an opponent's poor posture, much like an uppercut, because it rises up into the target.
1. Ryan Couture tries to circle along the fence and out of Pearson's range, but the Englishman keeps him in the pocket with a leaping right hook.
2. As Couture covers up, Pearson lowers his body and connects with a rising left hook.
3. Resetting his feet, Pearson lands another left, Couture's head colliding with this one as he ducks down in a futile attempt to avoid further damage.
4. The final left hook of the sequence, and Couture never sees it coming as he tries to escape.
Notice that Pearson's elbow is always low when he throws the hook. Its upward trajectory makes it very difficult to see coming, and combined with the bend in his knees, it allows him to control the entirety of the space in front of him, both low and high. After the Couture fight, Pearson summed up his strategy with the following: "When he level changes I level change with him and strike with him." As long as he is confident in his combinations, the space within Pearson's reach is a scary place to be.
Ross Pearson isn't the only fighter to throw this type of left hook, but few do it with his accuracy and timing. The worst thing an opponent can do against Pearson is to overcommit to the jab or right hand, because his aggressive defense and calculated punching technique is a nightmare for unprotected chins.
Pearson's footwork offers advantages and disadvantages. He's capable of being dropped, though it doesn't seem that his chin is particularly weak, as he's eaten big shots before and recovered quite well. Rather, Pearson's tendency to go down from power punches has more to do with his feet being out of position when he is struck.
1. Pearson starts in a good position relative to Cub Swanson, who begins to step forward for an attack.
2. Swanson throws a wild straight left that Pearson easily avoids, but he does so by compromising his stance. Instead of hop-stepping away, or pivoting, he steps back with his left leg.
3. Cub shift steps into a right hand, his left foot coming down right on top of Pearson's right foot.
4. Already out of position, Pearson is completely unable to adjust for his momentarily pinned right foot, and he tumbles backward.
Pearson tends to recover quickly from these knockdowns, but they are avoidable. He is so confident in his head movement and counter punching ability that he allows himself to stay in range of his opponents punches too long. This is particularly true when Pearson is coming forward and pressuring his opponent. He tends to walk forward, leaving his stance to cover distance more quickly. Sometimes, of course, this is a calculated risk. Jersey Joe Walcott was excellent at putting himself in seemingly disadvantageous positions only to suddenly find his stance and whip out some devastating counters.
And there's that rising hook again. Using walking footwork like this, Pearson can trap his opponents against the fence and unload combinations, but he can also be hurt. He is at his best when he comes in behind his jab, maintaining his stance and using his stellar head movement to set up his punches.
For more fight analysis, check out my podcast Heavy Hands. This week sees two special guest episodes released, one to discuss Tim Bradley and boxing for MMA with trainer Luis Monda, and the other exploring the evolution of the guillotine with BE writer T. P. Grant.
More from Bloody Elbow:
- Asian MMA: PXC 40: Tanaka vs. Aguon Live Video Stream, Results and Discussion
- Jury headed to third day of deliberations in Matthew Maldonado, Nicholas Schultz rape trial
- UFC Fight Night 30: Norman Parke vs. Jon Tuck preview and the prognostication
- BE's Baddest MMA Greatest of All Time Tournament: #2 Kazushi Sakuraba vs #7 Urijah Faber
- UFC Fight Night 30 weigh-ins: Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz live