For those of you who haven’t been following the sport too closely the last few years, you may be surprised to see Ross Pearson on the Fight Pass prelims of UFC 221. Perhaps you’re remembering that he headlined a card with George Sotiropoulos as 2012 drew to a close. He was never able to put together enough of a win streak to launch himself into the top of the division, but he was consistently entertaining. Well… not so much now. Four straight losses will take the wind out of anyone’s sails and Pearson is no exception. In fact, there is a strong likelihood this could be Pearson’s last UFC contest should he fall short to Mizuto Hirota. If so, it’ll draw a close to one of the better representatives from across the ocean the UFC has seen.
The Fight Pass prelims begin at 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT on Saturday.
Ross Pearson (21-12, 1 NC) vs. Mizuto Hirota (19-8-2), Lightweight
A bit of interesting matchmaking as both Pearson and Hirota appear to be at the end of the line after lengthy careers. In Hirota’s case, perhaps his decline could be explained by cutting too much weight as he was forced to pull out of his contest with Charles Rosa this fall after he could barely stand on the scale. Moving up to lightweight could help the 36-year old find a spring in his step that has been missing for a while, allowing his opponents to dictate the pace in recent contests.
Pearson knows all about cutting too much weight himself, having returned to lightweight a few years ago after depleting himself to 145 for a few fights. The Brit reaped the benefits of cutting less weight for a time, but now appears shopworn after 23 fights within the Octagon. Long one of the most durable lightweights on the roster, Pearson has taken a lot of damage in that time and it looks to have taken a major toll, being finished by Daniel Hooker in his last outing.
One dangerous pitfall for Pearson is Hirota’s inability to push the pace in recent contests. That may sound backwards, but Pearson is far more effective off the counter rather than leading the dance. The problem is that he’s far too willing to give chase when his opponent is reluctant to engage. Hirota has been most efficient when looking for takedowns, something he hasn’t done enough of. Even if he does, Pearson’s rock solid takedown defense is one aspect of his game that doesn’t appear to have declined. Though I don’t feel comfortable picking either fighter, I’m going with Pearson to extend his UFC career just a bit longer. Pearson via decision
Teruto Ishihara (11-4-2) vs. Jose Quinones (7-2), Bantamweight
We all remember when Ishihara used to declare “I love my bitches!”, right? Those were good days. Even though the UFC brass decided to strip Ishihara of his personality by disallowing him to use that phrase – a confusing move given they refuse to promote their fighters anymore – it’s difficult not to like the quirky youngster from Japan. However, Ishihara’s progress has slowed considerably after impressing in his first three UFC contests. He still has the explosion that caught opponents by surprise, resulting in two impressive KO’s from the outside. However, if he is dragged beyond the opening minute or two of the second round and Ishihara struggles to put much mustard on any of his offense. He’s tried to supplement that with the occasional takedown as his energy level fades, but has only had limited success in that endeavor.
Quinones has taken a far more gradual approach than Ishihara, fighting only once a year since his debut in 2014. Primarily using his wrestling early in his UFC career, Quinones opted to show off his boxing skills in his last outing against Diego Rivas. Sure, he could tighten up his footwork and sit down on his strikes a bit more, but his accuracy and ability to mix up his punches was impressive. However, Quinones has struggled to stop his opponent’s takedowns, perhaps overvaluing his own wrestling abilities based on his own ability to get the fight to the ground.
The drop to bantamweight isn’t a guarantee to help out Ishihara. He already has issues with his gas tank and cutting more weight may damage it even more. Aside from that, his own takedown defense has been garbage. Despite his weaknesses, Ishihara has proven to be very durable. He should find a way to go the distance, even if he can’t pull out the win. Quinones via decision
Luke Jumeau (12-4) vs. Daichi Abe (6-0), Welterweight
The book on Jumeau before he came into the UFC was that of a brawler with horrible takedown defense. Someone forgot to tell Jumeau upon his arrival to the big show. Fighting with great discipline and showing a tremendous sprawl, Jumeau has reversed the narrative. However, it cost him in his last contest as he wasn’t nearly aggressive enough to take the decision away from Shinsho Anzai. To be fair, Jumeau has tried to take advantage of his improved countering and in-fighting in the clinch, but it leaves some wondering if he isn’t fighting against himself in the process.
While Abe is still very much an unknown quantity, he has followed a similar path to Jumeau in that he was known as an aggressive striker to start his career only to transform into more of a counter striker. His striking arsenal is impressive and he showed some of his judo game in his UFC debut by ripping off a vicious sweep on Hyun Gyu Lim. Abe still tends to get rocked at least once in every contest, though he has shown an impressive ability to recover quickly.
A brilliant piece of matchmaking, this is a very difficult contest to pick. The hope for fans is that the both of them return to their roots of brawling as fireworks would then be guaranteed. Then again, it doesn’t indicate much in terms of their growth if they do revert to that. Given his experience and the motivation that can come from fighting in front of your fellow countrymen, I’m going with Jumeau. Jumeau via TKO of RD3
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