Mixed martial arts is a game of supernal heights and subterranean lows. A fighter can win the belt one night, and find themselves teetering on the edge of irrelevance a few bad nights later. This is precisely what happened to former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, who stumbled from his station as one of the UFC’s most exciting champions, and fell onto a worrying, three-fight losing-streak in just over a year’s time.
First, he lost his lightweight crown to Rafael Dos Anjos. Next, he was edged by Eddie Alvarez in an extremely competitive fight. Then, he was outgunned by the ever-dangerous Edson Barboza, losing a hard-fought unanimous decision. And suddenly, he found himself on the kind of skid that has cost many a fighter their UFC contract in the past.
So, Pettis did what so many others before him have done when the going gets rough, and switched weight classes. Yet instead of going up to welterweight like his former opponents Benson Henderson and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone did, he went down to featherweight, following in the footsteps of other former lightweights like Jeremy Stephens, Denis Siver and Frankie Edgar.
His debut in this new weight class saw him take on submission whiz Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira—another former lightweight—in the co-main event of the UFC’s Saturday night return to Vancouver. And though Pettis seemed to lose the second round of this bout, he ultimately regained control of the fight in the third, locking up a beautiful guillotine choke for the win.
Just like that, Anthony Pettis was a contender again.
The truly exciting thing about Pettis’ return to contender status, of course, is that it is occurring in a new weight class where he has fought just two fighters in the divisional top 10. That means he’s got a long list of fresh matchup possibilities to look forward to, all of which will give him a firm push in the direction of a featherweight title shot. The question then, becomes: who gets the call to fight Anthony Pettis next?
One of the most compelling choices in this regard is Cub Swanson, a long-time featherweight contender, and the kind of striker that matches up beautifully with Pettis. Though Pettis has recently spent time training at Swanson’s long-time HQ in Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA, it’s unlikely that the two fighters would have any bones with fighting each other, and the matchup seems to make plenty of sense from a rankings standpoint too.
Of course, that’s not where Pettis’ featherweight options end. He might also be matched up with Max Holloway, who has suffered more than anyone as featherweight champion Conor McGregor runs rampant in heavier divisions.
Currently on a division-best, nine-fight streak, Holloway has more than earned a title shot, but has regrettably been forced to twiddle his thumbs while McGregor settled his score with Nate Diaz, and Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar vied for interim gold in the Irishman’s stead. And because there’s still a possibility that McGregor returns to featherweight to unify his title with that of the new interim champion in Aldo, it’s possible that Holloway’s wait could last even longer. If this is the way things unfold, the young Hawaiian may opt to take another fight, and if he does, there’s perhaps no better choice for him than a resurgent former champion in Pettis. Furthermore, a bout with Holloway would could give us an excellent sense of where Pettis truly stands at lightweight. And finally, the two strikers match up wonderfully on paper. Yet it’s very possible that Holloway ends up fighting Aldo for the interim title while McGregor tests his mettle at lightweight. In this event, Pettis’ next opponent would need to be plucked from somewhere else in the featherweight division.
This brings us to arguably the most exciting of all Pettis’ options: a fellow former lightweight champion in Frankie Edgar. Because their reigns were separated by the reign of Benson Henderson, Pettis and Edgar have never met in the cage. Today, when Pettis has his eyes on featherweight gold, and Edgar is eager to reassert himself as a contender after his UFC 200 loss to Aldo, it is the perfect time to rectify that. The fight could be sold solely on the basis of being a clash between two of the best lightweights in UFC history. The fact that it would also make a ranking-relevant and entertaining booking is just icing on the cake.
The important thing here, though, is that Anthony Pettis has saved his career. Had he lost to Charles Oliveira last Saturday, this article could very easily be outlining his options as a Bellator or World Series of Fighting fighter. Instead, it’s highlighting his many thrilling matchup options in one of the UFC’s deepest division, any one of which could catapult him right back to the top of the mountain.
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