Let's face it, this is not really a main event in any sense of the term other than the most literal as a headlining act. There was no wave of excitement that accompanied the fight announcement, and no heavy buildup to fight night, but such is the importance of The Ultimate Fighter brand that the company trots out the two coaches of an international edition as event anchors even when their matchup isn't necessarily meaningful from a divisional standpoint. This is not to disparage the careers of George Sotiropoulos and Ross Pearson. The former was once a legitimate lightweight title contender, and the other has been a serviceable and even dangerous fighter throughout his UFC run.
It's just that at this point of their respective careers, the UFC on FX 6 fight doesn't mean much aside from what it means to them personally.
Sotiropoulous will be competing for the first time in 17 months due to injury and the TUF taping scheduling, and coming off two straight losses, the most recent a devastating knockout at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos. Pearson has been inconsistent, dropping three of his last five, with the last a TKO defeat to the surging Cub Swanson.
The matchup is to some degree one of differing styles. While both men have more career submissions than knockouts, Pearson in particular seems to enjoy engaging in the standup game more than the ground, while Sotiropoulos is the opposite.
That will make it incumbent upon Sotiropoulos to try to take the fight to the mat, something which he is below average at doing. According to FightMetric statistics, Sotiropoulos has only taken down opponents on 37 percent of his attempts, a very low number. Factor in Pearson's 79 percent takedown defense percentage, and you can see that the Aussie has his work cut out for him.
Then again, who really knows what to expect from Sotiropoulos, who is now 35 years and coming off the longest layoff of his career. It's possible the time off did his body good and that he comes back with a set of new skills, but it's also possible he could come back looking older or rustier than ever.
Prior to his losses, Sotiropoulos showed an improved standup game, tightening his stance, adding head movement and gaining a better mastery of angles. All of that made good use of his reach, which is listed at 71 inches but seems to go beyond. The weird thing is that those improvements did not result in much good fortune. In both instances against dos Anjos and Dennis Siver, he was mostly outgunned by firepower.
He faces the same possibility against Pearson, a 28-year-old who has flashed solid boxing skills throughout most of his career. Sotiropoulos could craft an edge for himself if he is able to keep the fight at distance with liberal use of kicks, but in each of his last two fights, he was crowded by fighters looking to get inside, and the result was a loss. Pearson enjoys fighting in the pocket, and isn't averse to anchoring himself in the cage and letting bombs fly. I'd give the striking edge to Pearson.
If the fight does get to the ground, the momentum could quickly shift. Sotiropoulos is a high-level jiu-jitsu black belt, and has four of his seven octagon wins by way of tapout, including one over the solid grappler Joe Lauzon. Sotiropoulos has a very complete submission game, including one of the most dangerous guards in MMA with liberal usage of the rubber guard which has neutralized and then attacked opponents as talented as Joe Stevenson. He often uses it to get to the top position, where he is relentless with his guard passes and submission attempts.
Pearson has two submission losses in his career, so he's susceptible, though no easy pickings.
The other area of interest here is conditioning. Sotiropoulos is known for his stamina, but Pearson does something routinely that can smash any man's conditioning: he strikes to the body often with both punches, knees and kicks. MMA has recently seen the rebirth of body punching, and Pearson is quite adept at it.
Finally, the two apparently worked up a pretty heated rivalry while they were competing against each other on TUF: The Smashes. In a recent interview, Pearson said it would be the first time in his career he was going into the cage with emotion, which could be good or bad depending upon how he channels it.
Whenever a fighter goes into the cage after a layoff of more than a year, he almost invariably loses. You can only mimic true fight conditions in training camp to some degree. When you step in the cage and someone is actually trying to hurt you, the speed of it all changes. That's what Sotiropoulos is up against. Faced with that as well as what I believe is an edge on the feet for Pearson and a likelihood of the match being contested there, the bout swings the Brit's way. Pearson by fourth-round TKO.