There’s no doubt “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (13-1) shocked a lot of people with his win over the now former WEC Lightweight Champion “Smooth” Ben Henderson (11-2) last Thursday night to claim the honors of being the very last ever WEC 155lb. title holder and earn his spot as the first man in line to face the winner of “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1) vs. “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-0). Pettis came into the WEC 53 main event bout as the underdog, but it sure didn’t appear that way as “Showtime” controlled the pace and consistently landed the more damaging shots through much of the fight. And, in what will surely make MMA highlight reels for years to come, in the final round Pettis delivered an astonishing Matrix style off-the-cage kick that connected hard to the left side of Henderson’s skull and momentarily dropped the champion to the canvas. It is safe to say that his match against “Smooth” showcased Pettis’ best performance to date and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he indeed has earned his moniker “Showtime”.
Pettis’ next big task in his only three-year-old professional fighting career is to face either Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard in hopes of dethroning the current champion or giving the top contender his first loss in order to unify the lightweight belt between the two promotions once they merge in 2011. One of these three men – “Showtime”, “The Answer”, or “The Bully” – will be the undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion. Both of the UFC fighters have unique fighting styles and each pose different threats to Pettis. How will “Showtime” fare against the upper echelon of the talent pool boasted by the UFC? What challenges does he face, and how will he overcome them? Let’s take a closer look at the potential match-ups for Anthony Pettis.
GRAY MAYNARD: When his name comes to mind, it typically is accompanied by images of takedowns, and, for many fans, not much else. Critics often describe “The Bully” as a “wet blanket” or “lay-and-pray” fighter that uses his world class wrestling to simply subdue his opponent and ride the clock, ultimately winning the fight on points. To many, he doesn’t exactly keep things interesting. One of those decision victories is against Frankie Edgar in April 2008. Could a repeat of history be in the near future? Maybe. Their match aside, should Pettis find himself in the Octagon across from Maynard, takedown defense is something he will have hopefully covered extensively in training camp. Pettis is remarkably squirmy when taken down and seeing as how Henderson had a difficult time restraining the new champ, it’s hard to say if Maynard could do any better himself. While he could still earn the decision by repeatedly taking Pettis to the mat, this would be extremely taxing on his gas tank, leaving him more vulnerable to a flash KO in later rounds. The truth of the matter is Gray Maynard’s chin has really never been tested. Pettis’ far superior striking and unpredictable style could make him the ideal candidate to nail “The Bully” with a right hook or flashy roundhouse kick to the jaw and send him to the mat. Adding this in with Pettis’ seemingly more extensive conditioning in the later rounds could spell big trouble for the Xtreme Couture team member. All in all, if “Showtime” can stop Maynard’s one track gameplan of “laying and praying”, Anthony Pettis will put a hurt on “The Bully” like the one he put on Henderson – only this time, his opponent won’t be so lucky as to hear the final bell sound if he can’t manage to keep Pettis down.
FRANKIE EDGAR: Should Pettis find himself pitted against current lightweight champ Frankie Edgar in the title unification bout, it should be a much more entertaining fight than if he were to face Maynard. Pettis and Edgar both are incredible strikers with Pettis being the flashy knockout artist and Edgar being a more precise boxer. This holds potential as the kind of technical stand-up battle that may go down in UFC history as an example of the evolution of striking in MMA. Edgar has good footwork and was able to out-box “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7-1) twice, which is no easy task. “The Answer” also has pin point hands that he can land anywhere that goes in combination with his crisp leg kicks that can slow down even the most resilient fighters. Pettis, however, is good at cutting off his opponents and utilizing his power in the pocket in order to wear down his foes, setting them up for flying knees and high kicks that could shatter cinder blocks. Edgar is no stranger to the ground, with three of his wins coming by submission, but as hard as it is to keep Pettis down, he will not be on the mat long enough to utilize his submission skills. When it’s all said and done, it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to be a judge for this fight. It likely will end in a close decision should the match even get that far but either way Pettis should be crowned the new UFC Lightweight Champion after he out-strikes and clobbers Edgar at every turn of the fight.
Anthony Pettis is the poster child for natural talent, as his professional MMA career began in 2007 and in that short time he has already attained a major title belt in only 14 bouts and is next in line for another. His unorthodox striking and exceptional takedown defense has catapulted him to the head of his class and he’s only 23 years of age. With his prime years still ahead of him it will be an interesting path to follow as fans watch his career unfold and the legend of “Showtime” Pettis develop. In his past fights, he has been considered the underdog but the one thing that is certain is that Pettis can never be counted out of a fight. He has the talent to dominate the UFC lightweight division as is evident in these two possible match-ups. While each man has a distinct advantage that “Showtime” must overcome, Pettis has the talent and ability to end either man’s night any number of ways at the drop of a hat.
The WEC Lightweight Champion’s next opponent will be decided after Edgar and Maynard square off New Year’s Day for the UFC 155lbs. title.