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At 27 years old, Anthony Pettis has made a name for himself by being one of the most dynamic and efficient strikers in the UFC. He makes things happen like no other fighter has done before. Some of his performances in the Octagon might have even gained him a place in the cultural zeitgeist. We don’t even need to remind you of which ones we’re talking about. “Matrix-running-wall-kicks” Anthony Pettis. “Insane-first-round-arm-bar” Anthony Pettis. “Lightning-fast-exchanges Anthony Pettis.” “Wheaties-Box” Anthony Pettis. “Anthony-Pettis” Anthony Pettis.
Anthony Pettis has only lost to Clay Guida, by unanimous decision, at a time Clay Guida was showing the world that he was the man. He lost to Bart Palaszewski, too, but that was five years ago, in a split decision, and Palaszewski’s last go was a loss to Cole Miller in The Ultimate Fighter 17’s finale in 2013. Since then, Showtime has meticulously deconstructed the division and rebuilt it with himself at the top.
Anthony Pettis is the man right now. He’s favorited coming into his title defense, but not by any unimaginable amount. It’s a fairly even split. And that’s because, even as a veteran matched up against a man in his prime, Gilbert Melendez is still dangerous as hell. Gilbert Melendez has an oak-sturdy old school quality about him. El Niño has been fighting for 12 years now. He debuted in 2002, on WEC 5 against Greg Quan, whom he knocked out in the first round. His next four fights were all wins by way of KO or TKO. He notched a strong unanimous decision win against Hiroyuki Takaya and the two fights after that he took home because the doctor had to come in and call both of them a day. It was a meteoric beginning in mixed martial arts. Gilbert Melendez was one of the rawest guys in the sport, regardless of weight-class.
Melendez was without a doubt Strikeforce’s best lightweight fighter, and one of the best fighters in the whole promotion. He is unquestionably one of the best fighters in the world—some might even go as far as saying that he might be tip toeing into the G.O.A.T waters.
In a recent interview with Fox Sports, Gilbert Melendez said about his long awaited encounter with reigning UFC Lightweight Champion of the World, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis: “This is probably my last shot at gold.”
That depends on what kind of performance Gilbert delivers. Win or lose, Anthony Pettis will remain a top fighter in the division. If Gilbert drops Pettis with ease, Gilbert wins a fight that definitely puts him in contention for one of the greatest fighters mixed martial arts ever witnessed. If Gilbert takes Pettis for five rounds and beats him by decision, Gilbert also wins a fight that definitely puts him in contention for one of the greatest fighters mixed martial arts ever witnessed. A loss for Pettis simply means that a veteran super-fighter took him down, that he still has much path to cover in his life. If Gilbert loses after five toe-to-toe rounds, the UFC would be wise to organize a rematch. Unless, of course, the shot has to be given to someone else. Say, a third Benson Henderson challenge.
Both athletes have promised knock-out wins, except that Gilbert acknowledged in his statement that he may go down trying. He’s a hero in our eyes. There’s none of that sentiment coming from Pettis. Who knows, maybe his overconfidence—which is in no way undeserved—might be what allows Gilbert Melendez to come through and deliver with the ferocity we all know and love. He knows he’s stepping into the most important fight of the second act to his career, but he might just blow us all out of the water by dethroning a spectacular and ever-ascending Anthony Pettis.
At the very least, the bout for UFC Lightweight Champion of the World will be one of the best fights we’ve ever seen, no doubt about that.
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