Who is the more dynamic striker: Anthony Pettis (pictured) or Jose Aldo? Tell us below. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
If you’re part of the rest of a hungry -- and perhaps angry -- Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight division, don’t blame Anthony Pettis for the way things transpired.
“Showtime” entered the UFC in 2011 with a four-fight winning streak, ESPN mainstream credibility and the promise of a 155-pound title shot in his back pocket. As the last World Extreme Cagefighting champion and a YouTube sensation, the timing seemed perfect to introduce Pettis to the larger audience of the Las Vegas-based promotion as the challenger to the Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard winner following UFC 125.
As it turned out, the conflict between Edgar and Maynard took nearly nine rounds and 10 months to resolve. In the meantime, Pettis agreed to a bout against Clay Guida at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” Finale in June 2011. Pettis’ title hopes were smothered by the top control of “The Carpenter” that summer, a fact which continues to irk supporters of the Roufusport representative to this day.
Undeterred, Pettis gradually worked his way back up the mountain. He out-Guida-ed the heavy-handed Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136 -- the same card where Edgar and Maynard concluded their trilogy -- before returning to his customary “Showtime” form with spectacular knockouts against Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone in his next two outings.
With that, Pettis had regained the No. 1 contender status he had received upon first joining the UFC. However, just like two years ago, he was told to wait. Another crossover champion, former Strikeforce ruler Gilbert Melendez, had already been given dibs on current 155-pound titlist Benson Henderson, the man Pettis had defeated at the WEC’s farewell event in December 2011.
As a newcomer to the promotion two years ago, Pettis risked losing his good standing by waiting out the Edgar-Maynard saga, so he took a risk and fought Guida. This time, he had the clear blessing of UFC President Dana White if he wanted to remain on the sidelines until his name was called. Pettis, of course, is no longer naive enough to believe that a guaranteed title shot is actually guaranteed. A close, controversial decision between Henderson and Melendez is all it would take to further delay Pettis’ chance at lightweight glory once more.
“At this point, the belt’s been avoiding me,” Pettis told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show after dispatching Cerrone at UFC on Fox 6. “I’m tired of chasing after it. I’m tired of waiting and putting my career on hold. I just turned 26. I think I’m going to be entering my prime here in the next couple of years. I want to take full advantage of that. I just want to make sure that it’s official and no matter what happens [between Henderson and Melendez] -- a draw, a close decision, no one’s going to cry about the decision -- that I’m next no matter what.”
Ultimately, Pettis took matters into his own hands. With his crushing liver kick of Cerrone on national television having elevated his stock to a point not seen since he launched himself off the cage for the “Showtime” kick at WEC 53, Pettis angled for a shot at featherweight champion Jose Aldo. It did not take long for White to grant the fighter his wish: Pettis texted the UFC boss after Aldo’s win over Edgar at UFC 156 on Feb. 3, and, two days later, an Aug. 3 date was set for the matchup.
While some might question the logic behind Pettis’ choice -- he will spend half a year waiting for the bout, after all -- there is no one between he and Aldo. By dropping a weight class, Pettis is finally at the front of the line. As for the difference between potentially facing a man he has already beaten once in Henderson and a man who has not lost to anyone since 2005 in Aldo, Pettis is aware of the risk involved.
“To me, Aldo’s a tougher fight,” Pettis said on Fuel TV. “That’s why I asked for it. He’s one of those guys going through his opponents like crazy. He just beat the last 155-pound champ. I think Aldo’s the tougher challenge for me. I beat Ben Henderson once, and I think I'm going to be doing it again soon, but, right now, I think Aldo’s the guy that’s on the radar.”
These days, it appears that a few ticks left or right on the scale is all that separates a contender from a chance at UFC gold. Although his move to featherweight came with great reticence, Edgar was granted an immediate title shot against Aldo once he cut from 155 pounds. Chael Sonnen will vie for Jon Jones’ light heavyweight crown at UFC 159, and like Edgar, he gets the opportunity after consecutive title losses at a previous weight class. If heavyweight Daniel Cormier decides that cutting to 205 pounds is more desirable than facing American Kickboxing Academy teammate Cain Velasquez down the road, he could also get the Sonnen treatment. Had Rashad Evans not offered such a tepid performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, it’s conceivable he could have been middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva’s next foe.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to blame Pettis for following the trend. When a prominent fighter changes weight classes, the presence of a fresh face in the division generates excitement. If Pettis-Aldo isn’t quite a super fight, it sure feels like a super fight, which is something you cannot say about Aldo versus the rest of the featherweight field.
That brings us to the Ricardo Lamases and Chan Sung Jungs of the world, those who have been toiling away only to see Pettis get the VIP treatment despite a nonexistent 145-pound resume. Sometimes, simply winning is not enough. However, if you can spare 10 pounds, the bantamweight division is looking for a few good men.