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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to Music City with a solid event. The post-UFC 235 doldrums have overachieved thus far thanks to a combination of surprisingly fun fights and ESPN’s superior pacing, but UFC Fight Night 148 might represent the biggest stretch of the bunch. The headliner seems bizarre, and beyond that, the only fight that marries stakes and action sadly comes in a dying flyweight division. However, even on a card where the fights look more intellectually interesting than they might be in practice, there are still some talented prospects competing, like Luis Pena and Maycee Barber, and nothing on this lineup sticks out as particularly poor. Those looking for ways to spend five or six hours this weekend could do worse.
Here is the preview for UFC Fight Night “Thompson vs. Pettis” at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee:
WelterweightsStephen Thompson (14-3-1) vs. Anthony Pettis (21-8)
ODDS: Thompson (-430), Pettis (+345)
This main event came out of nowhere, and while it initially felt somewhat pointless in the grand scheme of things, at least Kamaru Usman’s title win at UFC 235 has made Stephen Thompson a relevant contender again. Still, Thompson badly needs a good performance to restore his place in the welterweight division. Much has been made regarding the legitimacy of Thompson’s litany of kickboxing titles, but after a rough start, it translated well to the UFC level, as “Wonderboy” managed to string together a highlight reel of knockouts on his way up the ladder. However, after a win over Johny Hendricks that made Thompson a true contender, the party came to a screeching halt. Thompson earned a title shot with a decision win over Rory MacDonald that did not result in ton of action, though in the moment, the reputation of both men at least provided a level of tension throughout all the inactivity. Then back-to-back title fights with Tyron Woodley provided about one good round worth of action -- their rematch was legitimately terrible -- and after a win over Jorge Masvidal, Thompson put on another stinker in a controversial loss to Darren Till. Thompson’s best wins have seen him obliterate an opponent who leaves himself open, and when fighters like Woodley and Till are willing to remain patient and force Thompson to lead, the result becomes a staring contest, as the South Carolina-based karateka seems content to stay defensively sound rather than press any sort of momentum. Thompson finds himself in a weird spot, still obviously near the top of the division but badly needing to reverse his reputation from a boring decision machine to someone who can put on an entertaining fight. Even with Woodly no longer champion, that is the road back to title contention. The Till loss was a setback in every way possible, so securing a win against Pettis becomes paramount.
Pettis’ move to 170 pounds comes at a strange time, as after a few years in the wilderness, “Showtime” finally seemed to be putting his career back on track. Entering 2015, Pettis looked like an unbeatable lightweight champion and a future pillar of the UFC. Owing to the Milwaukee native’s good looks and flashy fight style, the promotion put its full weight behind attempting to make Pettis a star, starting with a theoretical showcase bout against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185. Instead, dos Anjos showed the path to defeating Pettis, pressuring him and roughing him up against the cage; as other opponents tried the same tactics, Pettis’ whole game began to fall apart. A cut down to featherweight was essentially over before it began, as Pettis missed weight before suffering a beating at the hands of Max Holloway, and heading back to 155 pounds provided a mixed bag; Pettis still had enough natural talent to beat Jim Miller, but his loss to Dustin Poirier showed that his strong grappling game and toughness, the two mainstays of his skill set, were also starting to betray him. Come 2018, Pettis talked about bringing back the old “Showtime” heading into his fight, but unlike most, Pettis actually followed through on the promise. While abandoning greater strategy in favor of hunting for finishes and big dynamic moments does not seem like a smart move, it genuinely seems to have helped Pettis stay in the flow and stop overthinking things, as he crushed Michael Chiesa in the second round and hung tough with Tony Ferguson before breaking his hand. Pettis may yet have another act in the lightweight title picture, but he is currently a welterweight for some reason.
At first blush, this looks like an easy Thompson win, if only based off of the size advantage. It has been death to watch, but Thompson has become more than capable of staying long and picking off smaller opponents to keep them at range. However, Pettis does have some tools that should make this closer than Masvidal did against Thompson. Pettis’ kicking game sticks out, particularly to the body, as a way for the former lightweight champion to connect from range himself and not necessarily allow Thompson to stay defensive and fight a winning fight. While Pettis’ durability does seem to have lessened from its ridiculous peak, he might be able to get away with staying aggressive but not having his lights put out by a big Thompson counter. Still, the overall contours of the fight favor Thompson -- even if Pettis can go kick for kick with “Wonderboy,” it might not be an advisable strategy -- so this is his fight to lose. The pick is Thompson via decision.
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