Ross Pearson aims to redefine himself in the featherweight division. | Photo: Sherdog.com
After UFC 140 on Dec. 10, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s final event of 2011 has a tough act to follow. Most of the attention currently being directed toward show on Friday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas is centered on the headliner -- and rightfully so. In the words of Apollo Creed, that is a damn monster movie.
Aside from the 500-plus pounds of beef comprising the five-round main event between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem, the pay-per-view contains several matchups of interest, most notably fights pitting Johny Hendricks against Jon Fitch and Donald Cerrone against Nick Diaz.
The same holds true for the undercard, which features an established roster that could steal some thunder with a few breaks. Here are five reasons to care about the UFC 141 “Lesnar vs. Overeem” prelims.
‘The Real Deal’ at Featherweight
The lightweight winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9, Ross Pearson will make his featherweight debut at UFC 141 following a respectable Octagon stint at 155 pounds.
A slugger at heart, Pearson has gone out on his shield when he has been beaten in the UFC (see his rear-naked choke submission defeat at the hands of Cole Miller for evidence). Most recently, Pearson went toe-to-toe with Edson Barboza at UFC 134, coming up on the short end of a split decision to the muay Thai practitioner.
Will the Brit be able to make 145 pounds and feel good doing it? He will have no cakewalk in Junior Assuncao, but if he can make the cut healthily, Pearson could become a new person of interest in a rapidly intensifying featherweight division.
‘The Assassin’ vs. ‘Last Call’
It might not be as good as Cerrone-Diaz, but Anthony Njokuani’s showdown with Danny Castillo has serious “Fight of the Night” potential.
A lanky, diverse striker with a serious propensity for violence, Njokuani has been making sadists everywhere smile broadly since he joined the WEC in 2009. While not especially successful -- Njokuani holds a 5-4 overall record under the Zuffa banner -- the Nigerian has provided viewers with plenty of entertainment in the last couple of years, delivering several devastating knockouts during his WEC career. Even though both of Njokuani’s UFC outings have gone the distance, his one-sided thumping of Andre Winner and back-and-forth standup war with Barboza likely left most viewers feeling satisfied.
Castillo’s style may be different, but his mindset is similar. Heavy-handed with a solid wrestling base, “Last Call” has seen the judges’ scorecards just four times in 16 pro fights. The Team Alpha Male representative has won four of his last five. Can he continue his momentum by grounding Njokuani or will “The Assassin” wrap a shin around Castillo’s dome before he has the chance?
Escudero Version 2.0
After winning the eighth season of “The Ultimate fighter,” Efrain Escudero appeared to many to be a potential contender at lightweight. The young Arizonan outpointed Phillipe Nover to win the competition and maintained his upward momentum by knocking out Miller at UFC 103 in 2009.
Two defeats followed in his next three fights, however, and, after suffering a submission loss to prospect Oliveira in a bout for which he came in four pounds overweight, Escudero was cut from the promotion in 2010.
After receiving his UFC pink slip, Escudero won four of five on the local circuit before submitting Cesar Avila at Bellator Fighting Championships on Oct. 22. Slated to meet Jeff Rexroad on Dec. 9 at Legacy Fighting Championship 9, Escudero received an unexpected call from the UFC asking him to replace an injured T.J. Grant against suffocating wrestler Jacob Volkmann.
Does Escudero have what it takes to thrive in a division as stacked as the UFC’s stable of 155-pounders? While a single fight probably will not tell the whole story, a showdown with Volkmann should make for a decent barometer.
Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That
God bless Matt Riddle for walking forward first and asking questions later.
If you have not seen his last two fights, it is your loss. Three-round slobber knockers like the ones put forth by Riddle and opponents Sean Pierson and Lance Benoist are hard not to love, and one would expect the same type of William Wallace-esque resolve to be on display from the man who should most definitely be known as “The Riddler.” No? How about Rid-X?
Transitioning beautifully from two excellent nickname suggestions, let us take a look at Riddle’s opponent, Luis Ramos. Shooto’s South American welterweight champion, “Beicao” likely still has a bad taste in his mouth from his one-sided defeat to countryman Erick Silva at UFC 134. Only finished twice in his decade-long career, Ramos should stand his ground against the American and provide audiences with some quality entertainment.
‘The Anvil’ and ‘The Gun’
Manny Gamburyan already had his shot at UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Diego Nunes has not quite been able to get over the hump and break into the Top 5 of a division that is quickly becoming denser with talent.
As young guns like Erik Koch and Dustin Poirier continue to climb their way up the featherweight ladder, it becomes increasingly important for fighters like Nunes and Gamburyan -- aged 29 and 30, respectively -- to maximize the time they have left as viable 145-pound contenders.
Which one can make a run toward the brass ring that is divisional kingpin Aldo? Neither can truly afford a setback at this stage. Nunes was bested by Kenny Florian in June, and Gamburyan has lost two straight. With both men potentially fighting for their jobs, the question becomes which fighter will reverse his momentum and take a step closer to the title?