Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos will duke it out for lightweight gold. | Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/UFC
Yee-haw! Wrangle up your biggest belt buckle and pop open a can of Alamo beer, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is coming to Texas. The good ship UFC 185 lands at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday with a championship doubleheader, marking the first of three schedule pay-per-views featuring title fights in the main and co-main events.
Related » UFC 185 Full Preview
HOW WE GOT HERE: Expectations are high for the UFC lightweight king, and those expectations were brought on mostly by the champion himself. Anthony Pettis saddles up for his second UFC title defense, as he faces Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos in the headliner. Pettis comes off arguably the best performance of his career at UFC 181 in December, when he submitted Gilbert Melendez. “El Nino” had never before been finished. Dos Anjos earned his title shot the old-fashioned way: He won fights until UFC brass had no choice but to give him his chance. The 30-year-old is 8-1 since 2012, knocking off the likes of Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz in that stretch -- no small feat in MMA’s toughest division ... Carla Esparza became the UFC’s second women’s champion by defeating Rose Namajunas at “The Ultimate Fighter 20” Finale. Now the hard part begins. Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” gathered together the best collection of women’s strawweights in history, but it did not grab everyone. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Claudia Gadelha and World Series of Fighting champion Jessica Aguilar -- who holds a win over Esparza -- did not compete on the show. The UFC matched Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha in a de facto semifinal in December, with the unbeaten Pole earning a decision and a crack at UFC gold ... After Johny Hendricks dropped a decision and the welterweight belt to Robbie Lawler at UFC 181, he needed a rebound fight. It was important to get back into training camp to get the bad taste of losing out of his mouth and to keep his notoriously robust waistline from getting out of control. Matt Brown was pulled from a UFC Fight Night show in Colorado to face the “Bigg Rigg.” Brown will look to bounce back from his own loss to Lawler in July -- his only defeat since 2011.
BRANDING: Brown has made a name for himself as a brawling, good ole boy with a penchant for action, like a hairy-chested Clint Eastwood movie character brought to life in a cage -- someone who would captain a podcast called ‘Legit Man S---.’ His seven-fight winning streak was a thing of beauty, but not one of his opponents was top-10 caliber. While the Brown bandwagon is swelling with new members, the Ohioan does not want to be just a banger who draws eyeballs; he wants to be the best. He can make a major statement and alter fans’ perception of him, from action fighter to top contender, should he defeat Hendricks.
SAY WHAT: Pettis has become one of the most dynamic finishers and top pound-for-pound fighters in MMA over the last few years. Only a string of injuries have kept the Roufusport star from rising to its full potential. A Wheaties box cover, Reebok sponsorship and a highlight reel that would make Melvin Manhoef blush all point towards very green pastures for the 28-year-old. How green? Pettis spoke about where he thinks his ceiling ends: “I want to be one of the pay-per-view kings in the UFC. I think there’s a path right now set up for someone to come in and take over, and I can be that guy.”
EIGHT-SECOND RIDE: Alistair Overeem and Roy Nelson would make a fantastic buddy-cop comedy. They are also like two opposite-looking puzzle pieces you try to fit in the same spot. In six of his seven UFC wins, “Big Country” landed a fight-altering overhand right and scored a knockout. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt he earned so many years ago gets more work holding up those giant britches than twisting opponents into canvas pretzels. Overeem is even more consistent. Since his Pride Fighting Championships days, he has a dozen wins, only two of which made it out of the opening stanza. Both fighters do their best work in the first round. Have a defibrillator cageside in case this fight goes 15 minutes.
USELESS FACT: Albert Einstein once said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” However, the Smartest Guy at the Bar loves stirring the nationalistic pot, and the fact that he has already had measles makes him immune. Poland’s Jedrzejczyk could become only the fifth non-American, non-Brazilian to win UFC gold, following in the footsteps of Georges St. Pierre, Carlos Newton, Bas Rutten and Andrei Arlovski. “The Pitbull” was the most recent European champion, all the way back in 2005.
AWARDS WATCH: How many times should we forgive 2008 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo for missing weight? At least once, according to UFC President Dana White, who booked the 28-year-old in a flyweight bout after a bad weight cut forced him from competing against Scott Jorgensen at UFC 177. After a win over Dustin Kimura at bantamweight in December, Cejudo returns to 125 pounds to face Chris Cariaso. Expect a “Performance of the Night” bonus out of him, assuming he has learned his lesson on the scale … The last four times Pettis stepped into the Octagon, he did something spectacular and walked away with a post-fight performance bonus. Dos Anjos is a fine martial artist, but will a “Showtime” finishing streak that includes Cerrone, Henderson, Melendez and Joe Lauzon end with the Brazilian? Doubtful … Hendricks-Brown is a bout around which Jordan Breen’s All-Violence Team was built and makes it so much easier to put together. Brown’s all-offense onslaught clashes perfectly with Hendricks’ power slugging. Sit back, relax and enjoy watching two professional concussion artists do their thing for “Fight of the Night.”