On Saturday night, an important fight takes place in the lightweight division, as two-time title challenger, Gray Maynard, faces off against winner of season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, Ross Pearson.
Maynard has been out since November 2013, when he was TKO'd by Nate Diaz in the first round. In his fight before that, he was TKO'd by TJ Grant, also in the first round. Overall, Maynard is just 1-3-1 since his title fight with Frankie Edgar in 2011. All three of his losses have been by (T)KO, while his lone win was a split-decision over the No. 12 featherweight, Clay Guida.
Pearson last fought in June, when he lost a razor-thin split-decision to Diego Sanchez. Even though Pearson lost the fight on paper, Dana White and the UFC awarded him his win bonus and also gave him a step-up in competition with this fight against Maynard. Pearson is 2-1 [1 NC] in his last four matches since returning to lightweight.
These two each have a clear path to earn a win, so let's check out their keys to victory.
Gray Maynard: Utilize his Wrestling and Dominate the Fight on the Ground
In Maynard's first 11 career fights, he went 10-0 [1 NC] with eight wins by decision. He earned wins over Dennis Siver, Frankie Edgar, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz, Kenny Florian and others, largely by utilizing his superior wrestling and strength.
At UFC 125, Maynard showed off that he can throw leather too, as he rocked Frankie Edgar several times in the first round of their title fight. He did the same in their rematch at UFC 136 as well, even though he himself would be knocked out in the fourth round.
Maynard needs to go back to his grappling roots and beat Pearson up on the ground to get a win. Not only is his wrestling the strongest aspect of his game, but his chin might not be top notch anymore. Two first-round TKO's can never be good.
Ross Pearson: Avoid the Takedown and Pick Maynard Apart
Pearson is known as a striker. He has earned six wins out of 15 by stoppage due to strikes—five by (T)KO and one by submission. In addition, he has only ever been stopped with strikes twice out of seven career losses. One was due to a doctor stoppage while the other came against the No. 2 featherweight, Cub Swanson.
Pearson only has one straight knockout in his career and is much more likely to pick up the TKO. If he is able to avoid Maynard's takedowns and land shots at every opportunity, one will eventually hurt Maynard. Pearson will then just have to follow up in short order, just like Frankie Edgar, TJ Grant and Nate Diaz did.
One other thing that Pearson will have to watch out for is Maynard's power. Gray hasn't scored a knockout since 2007, but he does have tremendous power in his hands. When Pearson was knocked out by Swanson, Swanson was backing up and landed a short hook. Maynard almost definitely has enough power to end the fight, and Pearson will have to be careful.