LAS VEGAS, December 30 - England’s Ross Pearson, lightweight winner of season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, made his featherweight debut in UFC 141 preliminary card action at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday night, prevailing against a fighter who early seemed to be playing the role of a Poor Man’s Lyoto Machida in Junior Assuncao.
Assuncao danced about the cage and tried to stay elusive early, and Pearson, a boxer/slugger at his core, seemed hesitant to hunt him down and charge forward with reckless abandon. But as the fight wore on, Assuncao (14-5) began to slow down a tad and Pearson began hitting him more with punches and a lead jab that dropped Assuncao in the second round.
Assuncao missed a golden opportunity early in the third. He scored a takedown, then transitioned to back control, but could not prevent Pearson from wiggling free. As the round stretched on, Pearson landed some hard knees and gradually ramped up his assault on a fading Assuncao, who survived, but watched his seven-fight win streak halted when the judges’ verdicts of 30-27 and 29-28 twice were announced. Watch Pearson's post-fight interview.
DANNY CASTILLO VS. ANTHONY NJOKUANI
In a clash of former WEC stars, Danny Castillo’s wrestling proved to be the difference en route to a split decision win over the always-dangerous Anthony Njokuani. The Team Alpha Male lightweight weathered a close call in the second round when Njokuani briefly dropped him to a knee with a right hand counter to the chin. Njokuani (15-6) showed flashes with his Muay Thai arsenal, scoring from the clinch with knees to the body and an elbow on the exit. But the judges were apparently more swayed by Castillo’s takedowns and top control than Njokuani’s intermittent leg kicks and combos, awarding his the bout via scores of 29-28, 29-28, and 28-29.
“Was that close to you?” the 32-year-old Castillo said afterward to Joe Rogan and fans at the arena who booed the decision. “I thought it was close but not controversial.”
Toward the end of his speech, Castillo (13-4) grew somewhat emotional, addressing the boo birds by noting, “This is my third fight in the UFC and I’ve taken three of my fights on less than four weeks notice, so if you guys want to boo that, fine.” Watch Castillo's post-fight interview.
DONG HYUN KIM VS. SEAN PIERSON
Coming off the lone loss in his career to Carlos Condit earlier this year, Dong Hyun Kim rediscovered his winning formula by unleashing a smorgasbord of standup skills, including a Karate Kid-style crane kick that wobbled Pearson in the second round. A judo black belt, Kim was content to predominantly settle matters on the feet, where he displayed a wide range of creativity and got the better of the action. For the most part Kim was effective with his striking and kicks, but did more scoring than harming. Nevertheless, he coasted to a unanimous decision by 30-27 scores, improving to 15-1-1 with 1 NC.
In defeat, Toronto’s Pierson fell to 11-6. Watch Kim's post-fight interview.
JACOB VOLKMANN VS. EFRAIN ESCUDERO
Jacob Volkmann, who made a splash during his cage entrance with a “Volkmann for President” tee, just might need a little chiropractic tune-up himself after the wicked guillotine Efrain Escudero threatened him with in the third round.
With his 2-0 lead on the judges’ scorecards in jeopardy, Volkmann, who moonlights as a professional chiropractor when he’s not fighting, showed remarkable poise while repeatedly changing the angles of the super-tight choke to buy himself the slightest flow of oxygen to survive. Other than the drama of that prolonged choke sequence, which Volkmann miraculously escaped, there was precious little entertainment value in this contest. Volkmann, a former Division I wrestling standout at the University of Minnesota, kept shooting in for takedowns and Escudero kept trying to greet him with a guillotine. In the opening two rounds, Volkmann’s guillotine defense was solid, as he swiftly jumped to the other side to beat it.
But when all was said and done, Volkmann did enough to earn the win via three scores of 29-28. Watch Volkmann's post-fight interview.
DIEGO NUNES VS. MANNY GAMBURYAN
Kick, kick and kick some more. That was apparently the Diego Nunes gameplan, and it carried him to a unanimous decision nod over former Ultimate Fighter finalist Manny Gamburyan. The Brazilian standup ace methodically whacked away at the Armenian hero’s lead leg in round one, cracking it by an unofficial count. The lead-leg feast not only won Nunes the opening frame, it also produced some visible bruising on Gamburyan’s leg.
The feisty Gamburyan rebounded in the second round, landing a hard overhand right and using his smothering style to score a takedown and rough Nunes up with a few knees (including one that opened a small cut over Nunes’ left eye). But Manny’s magical formula was stuffed in the fight-defining frame, with Nunes again stuffing the takedowns and scoring with a variety of kicks, including a humming kick to the body that Gamburyan ate in admirable fashion.
Though Gamburyan hoisted his hands in the air at the final horn, the judges saw it otherwise by scores of 29-28 across the board. Watch Nunes' post-fight interview.