ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Talk about hometown cooking, complete with some New Mexico green chile.
Ross Pearson picked apart Diego Sanchez with far superior boxing for three rounds en route to what seemed to be a clear unanimous decision win. But the judges in Albuquerque, where Sanchez grew up, thought otherwise, giving Sanchez a split decision victory (30-27, 27-30, 29-28) Saturday in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night at Tingley Coliseum.
The crowd loved it, cheering wildly when Sanchez’s name was announced as the winner. But Pearson was clearly the more effective fighter in each round. Sanchez clearly thought he won, even before the decision came down, because he jumped on the cage to celebrate when the fight was over.
"You never know when it’s in the judges hands," Sanchez told Jon Anik afterward. "I felt like I was going for it more. I felt like I was going for the finishes."
Sanchez (25-7) looked slower, in hand speed and sheer quickness, compared to Pearson, the better boxer. Despite hurting Pearson in the second round and hitting him with a mini-flurry in the third, Sanchez did little else. Pearson (15-7) dropped Sanchez with a right hand in the second and wobbled him with a hard combination in the third. In between, he controlled the cage, landing jabs, crosses and body kicks.
But no matter what actually happened in the Octagon, Sanchez, 32, will get a win on his record and keep his UFC career alive. He had lost two in a row previously and might have been fighting for his job, though he is exciting and beloved by fans. Sanchez is still not in title contention at lightweight, but maybe the UFC can find a fun fight for him next.
"I fight the fans, I fight for the company," Sanchez yelled afterward to Anik. "I love you, UFC!"
Pearson, 29, can only take solace in the fact that he did enough to win, even if the judges didn’t see it that way. A victory would have been his third in four fights and that only non-victory was a no contest against Melvin Guillard. Look for him to get a contender fight next regardless of this "loss."