UFC 241 Fighter Profile: Anthony Pettis
By Ross Markey
Anthony Pettis returns to the Octagon this weekend at UFC 241, attempting to extend his win streak to two fights for the first time in five years. Pettis who had tested the waters at featherweight, unsuccessfully, recently made his welterweight bow against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, after a second stint at 155 pounds.
Saturday in a hostile Anaheim, Pettis meets an all too familiar foe. California grappler Nate Diaz snaps an almost three-year hiatus from the sport, as he takes on the #7 ranked welterweight in the organization.
Former lightweight best Pettis was eager to clash with Diaz during his championship run in 2014, but the bout never materialized. ‘Showtime’ has a significant history with Nate, and the ‘Scrap Pack’ in particular, submitting member Gilbert Melendez in his last title defense, and exchanging verbals with Diaz in New Mexico.
In a twelve-year professional career, Pettis has twice secured championship gold and provided countless highlight-reel performances and finishes, below I discuss and analyze the career of ‘Showtime’.
Similar to UFC 241 opponent Nate Diaz, Pettis also spent the opening stages of his career in the lightweight division of the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion. The Milwaukee native ran through eight consecutive opponents before his WEC debut, catching the eye as a dynamic striker. The Taekwondo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt was drafted into his promotional debut against Mike Campbell after a hand injury scuppered the RoufusSport product from debuting against fellow seasoned striker Anthony Njokuani.
A timely triangle victory for Pettis inside the opening frame got his tenure in the WEC off to a winning start. Pettis was replaced by Bart Palaszewski for his scheduled debut against Nojukuani, a man he would meet at the end of the yeat. Dropping his first professional defeat, Pettis found himself on the losing side of a split decision to the Pole.
A return against now Team Alpha MMA coach Danny ‘Last Call’ Castillo was booked for WEC 47, with Pettis claiming the finish, the first of many highlight stoppages. Landing a head kick inside the opening three minutes, Pettis dropped Castillo and finished with follow up strikes.
A quick-fire return came just the following month, as Pettis met Alex Karalexis. A second straight stoppage followed, with ‘Showtime’ once more displaying his grappling prowess from his back with a triangle. Perrenial contender Shane Rolles was also swept aside via a Submission of the Night triangle, as Pettis earned a lightweight championship clash against Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson.
The Showtime Kick:
The shot heard and seen throughout the world. Pettis was already established as a hugely creative and dynamic striker ahead of his first title tilt against Henderson, but the fight altering knockdown Pettis scored in the final round was something completely new. Running toward the fence as Henderson backed away, Pettis kicked off the cage fence and landed a switch kick on the chin of Henderson, dropping the champion. Henderson managed to fend off the finish from Pettis as he recovered to see the fifth round buzzer.
The final round knockdown proved to be the difference-maker as Pettis was awarded the championship via unanimous decision.
During late 2010, the WEC merged with the UFC, with Pettis’ contract following suit.
Pettis’ Ultimate Fighting Championship debut came against long-time contender Clay ‘The Carpenter’ Guida. A phenomenal wrestling clinic from Guida provided a unanimous decision for the veteran, as Pettis debuted with a loss.
Paired with the heavy-hitting Jeremy Stephens, then still competing at lightweight, Pettis reverted to his college wrestling background as he scored three takedowns in the second round alone, to narrowly outpointed Stephens via a split decision.
With his first Octagon win achieved, Pettis returned against consummate grappler Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, claiming the Knockout of the Night accolade via a well-timed head kick.
An entire year spent on the sidelines haltered Pettis’ brisk move up the division rankings. Thirteen months later, Pettis returned against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in dominant fashion, finishing the fan-favorite via a liver kick midway through the opening round.
UFC President Dana White confirmed Pettis would face the winner of Henderson vs. Melendez for the lightweight championship later that year. Impatient, Pettis instead set sights on a move to featherweight to meet Brazilian striker José Aldo for the championship.
Failing to materialize after suffering a knee injury, Pettis instead replaced an injury TJ Grant on short notice in his hometown of Milwaukee to meet Benson Henderson once again, this time in the UFC. After utilizing some brutal body kicks in the early exchanges, Pettis secured an armbar off his back to pry the world championship from Henderson.
A year later, after a second scuppered pairing with José Aldo, Pettis met with the aforementioned Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181. After stunning Melendez with a check hook against the fence, the former Strikeforce lightweight best shot for a double leg. Pettis sprawled and immediately locked up a guillotine, once more off his back. Pettis had his first and last title defense, as well as becoming the first fighter to finish Melendez.
During the next four years, Pettis fought five times, winning just once and losing four. In a pressuring fight with Brazilian top contender Rafael dos Anjos. Pettis was relieved of champion status as he lost a dominant unanimous decision.
A second and third straight decision defeat to future champion Eddie Alvarez and striking ace Edson Barboza followed as Pettis made the quite surprising decision to try to alter his run of form a division lower at 145 pounds. After finding initial success with a guillotine win over renowned Jiu-Jitsu player Charles Oliveira, Pettis was slotted into an interim championship clash alongside surging contender Max Holloway.
After a botched weight cut attempt, Pettis was left ineligible to claim champion status in the UFC 206 headliner. A much diminished Pettis was taken out for the first time in his professional career after Holloway swarmed with hooks against the fence after landing a stiff body kick in the third round.
The Bonus King:
In four of Pettis’ last five outings, the Milwaukee native has earned four post-fight bonuses. Momentarily rebounding against Jim Miller, Pettis dropped a submission loss to Dustin Poirier in a Fight of the Night showing. In a back and forth clash, a bloodied Pettis suffered a broken rib during a third-round scramble and subsequent body triangle.
In an eventual meeting with TUF alumni Michael ‘The Maverick’ Chiesa before the pair moved to welterweight, Chiesa was ultimately stopped in the early stages of the second round via a triangle-armbar combination.
Voted as 2018 Fight of the Year by multiple outlets, Tony Ferguson met Pettis in an absolute barnburner in the co-main event of UFC 229 in October.
Despite dropping Ferguson in the early exchanges of the second round, ‘El Cucuy’ recovered and slashed Pettis with an uppercut on his way down to the mat. In between rounds two and three on his stool, Pettis told head coach Duke Roufus how he had broken his hand during a second-round exchange, with Roufus preventing Pettis from seeing a third round.
Pettis announced his intentions to return to welterweight for the first time since 2008, and was paired with fellow striking star Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. Maintaining distance and executing an immaculate jab as expected, Thompson comfortably took the opening round and almost the entire exchanges in the second, except for the final one.
Backed up against the Octagon fence, Pettis kicked off and landed a superman punch flush on Wonderboy’s chin, flattening the South Carolina native, becoming the first to do so in either MMA or Thompson’s entire Kickboxing career.
Both Pettis and Diaz are some of the most solid striking talents on the roster, with two very contrasting styles. Pettis, a dynamic kicker and Diaz, a slick volume puncher and counter boxer.
Where things get similar, is the ground. With a combined twenty submission victories and two very polished guillotines, the possible scrambles and the battle for top supremacy is an all too entertaining prospect come Saturday night.
Both men are wicked off their backs with exceptionally active offensive grauds, so expect both to throw up a hellfire of triangles, armbars, and guillotines if the opportunity arises.