New Mexico's native son, and one of the UFC's longest tenured fighters, Diego Sanchez, finally came home in his 21st UFC fight. Though it was controversial, it was a happy homecoming to Albuquerque, where Sanchez was born. British fighter Ross Pearson stuck to a calculated game plan and picked apart "The Dream" for the better part of three rounds, but ultimately dropped a split decision.
The judges scored in favor of Sanchez, 30-27, 27-30, 29-28.
Even still, Pearson was poised the whole way, standing in and picking his shots against Sanchez. In the first round, Pearson withstood any forward movement from Sanchez by landing heavy shots to his body. Somewhat more surprisingly, Sanchez was very measured himself, not growing overly antsy to put on a show for his fans. Sanchez came on late in the round, twice engaging in flurries in which he tagged Pearson with punches in volume.
The 29-year old Pearson continued to work Sanchez's body in the second round, but he was also finding a home for the left hand as Sanchez's hands started to get low. In a couple of pocket exchanges Sanchez was able to put his hands on Pearson, but the Sunderland, England fighter stalked forward and was landing the more effective shots (and with increasing volume).
Toward the end of the round, Pearson landed a short right hand that dropped Sanchez, which set up a sequence in which Pearson went on the attack. After getting Sanchez down momentarily, he wheeled out and resumed his game plan of staying outside, being selective on his shots.
In the final round, Sanchez tried to up the urgency a notch, but Pearson -- thinking he was in control -- continued to to be patient. Sanchez ended the fight with another sally, in which he and Pearson swung wildly at each other.
"I love you Albuquerque!," Sanchez screamed in the post-fight interview. "I keep working on wrestling and I wanted to get in here and do it but, with a fighter like Ross I knew out chemistry was going to be great. I fight for the fans. I fight for the company. I love you UFC."
When asked how confident he was that he'd won, Sanchez shrugged his shoulders intensely.
"You never know when it's in the judge's hands," he said. "I felt that I was going for it more. I felt I was going for the big finishes. You know, it was a great fight. I take my hat off to Ross. He's a man. He's a warrior. He came out here and Albuquerque. It's a hard thing to come here. But he did it, and he hit me with some good shots, and it was fun. It was a good fight."
With the loss, Pearson drops to 15-7-(1), while Sanchez -- who had over 100 family and friends in attendance at Tingley Coliseum -- moves to 25-7.