Making his UFC debut on short notice as an injury replacement is probably not the type of fanfare Will Brooks would have hoped for. Coming in to this fight Brooks currently stands as possibly the biggest talent that has not been picked up outside the UFC along with WSOF lightweight champ Justin Gaethje, he has amassed a record of 18-1 and more importantly he has bested the best competition available to him in his former home of Bellator. Much like his fellow former Bellator champion and current UFC title challenger Eddie Alvarez, Brooks is looking to make a splash in the 155 pound division straight away. But while Alvarez was matched up with the red hot Cowboy who at the time was in arguably the best form of his career, Brooks finds himself facing Ross Pearson, winner of season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2009, and who has alternated wins and losses since his robbery against Diego Sanchez 8 fights ago.
As a debut goes Brooks could not ask for more: Pearson is a recognisable name and a genuine talent at 155, and a win over him would do wonders for Brooks’ credibility and brand recognition, but he is far from the top of the field at lightweight, so the step up in competition is not as steep as it could be.
On the flip side of that a loss to Pearson sends Brooks crashing down to the bottom of the pack, while Pearson’s stock may not essentially rise as to the casual fan Brooks’ talent is not well known. This is clearly a test for Brooks, Pearson is a fantastic fighter when he is on form and a good indicator of where Brooks stands in the stacked 155 pound division.
Brooks’ biggest talent has always been his ability to mix it up. As a wrestler he is a grinder, looking to hold and hit more than jumping on submission attempts or trying to pound guys unconscious. His wrestling pedigree may not be there, he played football in college and high-school, but he can grind it out with the likes of Michael Chandler, an NCAA Division 1 All-American. If you can do this to a Division 1 All-American, you’re doing something right in the wrestling room.
This comfort on the ground opens up Brooks’ striking because he is so comfortable in grappling exchanges. He kicks frequently and is not afraid to throw a few in to a combination either. While he is not a knockout striker he has good pop on his punches and works best when he is crowding an opponent and throwing wide hooks around their guard, or using his beautiful stepping jab to mark his opponent up at distance.
Neither of these options would be a good choice against Pearson, who is well known as one of the better boxers in MMA. While Brooks is definitely more of a volume puncher, Pearson’s knockout power is undeniable. What Pearson excels at is stepping inside of his man and slipping punches, then countering with his beautiful left hook. His head movement is far and above his most valuable weapon, and he recognizes well that it is his presence that creates pressure, not his strikes. You need only watch Mike Tyson walking a man in to a corner, bobbing and weaving all the way, then pounce as soon as he draws a jab out of his panicked opponent, Pearson operates the same way. At times he will look to outfight and step in behind his own jab, but he is far less effective in that area, and it saw him drop his most recent loss to the mobile outfighter Francisco Trinaldo, and it caused him trouble in his last fight against Chad Laprise.
What is undoubtedly Pearson’s greatest strength is also his biggest weakness. Evasive head movement is fantastic against boxers, but against someone who kicks frequently, it often can lead to you ducking on to an incoming shin. As soon as opponents start chucking kicks his way, Pearson straightens up and becomes a much less effective fighter.
For Will Brooks the ideal thing to see is to use his well rounded skillset to keep Pearson off balance, kick frequently in the opening minutes to straighten him up, then try find a home for that long jab and try get in on those hips for a takedown. Once he gets him thinking about one area, change it up and capitalize on the openings that focus leaves, which has always been what Brooks is best at.
From Pearson I would like to see pressure, not punches, to force Brooks to strike on the back foot and look to counter as he does it: after all it is very difficult to kick going backwards. Brooks has been knocked out in his sole career loss and if there is a path to victory for Pearson, it is that. If he can get on Brooks first and draw out his punches without the kicks, he stands a great chance of dominating the fight, as his takedown defense and offence have always been criminally underrated.
With UFC 200 just a hop skip and a jump away, it is understandable that Will Brooks may not be getting the buzz he feels that he is deserving of, but if you can tune in to see his debut on Friday, you are unlikely to be disappointing, whatever way the fight goes. And if he wins,who knows? Contenders have been built on less…