Anthony Pettis likely saved his career Saturday night at UFC on Fox 21 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The former lightweight champion snapped a three-fight losing streak by submitting the No. 6 ranked featherweight Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira in the third round of their co-main event bout. It was certainly no walk in the park.
Anthony Pettis Drops to 145 and Returns to Glory
At the start of the first round, Oliveira did a great job of avoiding Pettis’ power, closing the distance, and pressing Pettis in the clinch up against the cage. Pettis showed great balance defending the takedown, spun off the cage, and escaped back to the middle. Oliveira, again able to avoid Pettis’ shots, initiated the clinch, took Pettis to the ground, and quickly took his back. For a moment, it appeared Pettis would continue his string of difficulties dealing with excellent grapplers. However, the wisdom of dropping to featherweight quickly became apparent when Pettis, unlike in his losses to Rafael Dos Anjos and Eddie Alvarez, was able to explode into guard and escape back to his feet.
Back in the middle, Pettis looked like the superstar of old when he dropped Oliveira with a vicious kick to the body. Pettis smelled blood and unleashed an onslaught of ground and pound abuse that had “Do Bronx” in deep trouble. However, he couldn’t close the deal, and the fight moved into the second round.
A Brutal Weight Cut Takes Its Toll
At the start of the second, both fighters landed solid combinations. Yet, signs of a brutal weight cut were evident, as Pettis was noticeably slower. Oliveira continued with his game plan, successfully clinching, taking Pettis down, taking his back, and going for submissions. Pettis defended well and once again escaped back to his feet after some ground and pound for the trouble. Oliveira closed the round with another takedown.
At the start of third round, both fighters looked tired. Pettis landed some shots, but there was nothing on them. Oliveira continued pushing forward, absorbing Pettis’ shots, and grappling Pettis to the ground, as he had the entire fight. Pettis showed he still had life left by locking in an armbar, but Oliveira escaped to side control. They scrambled and once again Pettis escaped to his feet. Oliveira shot in for a takedown, Pettis sunk in a tight guillotine choke, pulled guard, and Oliveira tapped at 1:49 of the third round.
Dropping to Featherweight Was a Smart Move
Dropping down to 145 was clearly the right move for Pettis. His weakness in takedown defense was still obvious, however, once on the ground, he wasn’t as easily controlled as he was against the bigger, stronger opponents in the 155-pound division. He was able to spend much more time on his feet which allowed him to be much more competitive. However, with striking aces such as Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar at the top of his new home, he’ll have his hands full.
Who Should Pettis Fight Next?
There is no surprise that Pettis wants a title shot. However, the featherweight division has no shortage of amazing talent, and the title picture is…complicated. Conor McGregor currently holds the undisputed title, but he hasn’t defended it since his 13 second knockout of Jose Aldo at UFC 194 in December 2015. While he has been busy with his circus sideshows vs. Nate Diaz at welterweight, Aldo beat Edgar to win the interim featherweight title. Dana White has issued McGregor an ultimatum: either defend the featherweight belt against Aldo or vacate the belt and challenge Alvarez for the lightweight title. It might be a safe bet to assume he will choose the latter. He certainly has nothing left to prove at featherweight, and the prospect of testing himself and becoming a two-division champion may prove too tempting for McGregor to pass up.
A title bout between Aldo and Max Holloway is a very real possibility. Holloway is on a nine-fight win streak with six finishes. He hasn’t lost since 2013 to none other than Conor McGregor. Pettis will likely have to get in line and prove himself by knocking off at least one more top contender. This leaves Edgar, Cub Swanson, Jeremy Stephens, or even a rematch with Oliveira as great potential opponents for Pettis. But as we all know, title shots and match-ups in the UFC are arbitrary, and anything can happen.