There isn’t much to breakdown when it comes to Anthony Pettis’ win over Benson Henderson at UFC 164. He handled Henderson’s grappling against the cage and kept the fight standing, where he’s most comfortable. You could see how improved his wrestling has become. His loss to Clay Guida two years ago was truly a blessing in disguise. He became more focused in proving that he won’t be taken down frequently and will be a complete fighter.
Although I still feel he should cut down on the flashy kicks, he proved that he could get himself out of a bad situation. I had a feeling that Henderson would catch one of his flashy kicks and get him to the ground. He did that, but Pettis showed everyone how dangerous he is off his back. We knew that he was always good and has a very strong guard. Despite that, nobody was really predicting to see Henderson get submitted let alone while he was in top position.
It was another jaw-dropping moment in 2013. From the Chris Weidman knockout of Anderson Silva to the spinning heel kicks by Junior dos Santos and Vitor Belfort, it has been a fantastic year so far in the UFC. Pettis has earned his moment and now just like every writer or analyst, I’m looking into his next potential fight. It will most likely be against T.J Grant or a super fight with featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
I’m going to break down each potential fight and compare the two matchups. Even though Pettis could be hurt for an extended period of time, both fights are very appealing. Although Grant isn’t anywhere near Aldo’s popularity, he deserves a title fight and could present major problems.
This is the fight that most people would want to see in early 2014. It’ll be the ultimate clash between two fighters with similar styles. They are both very exciting, although Aldo is more conservative while Pettis can be reckless. Another subplot that people would have to consider is at what weight class will this fight take place at? Aldo has said in the past that he’s had problems cutting down to 145 pounds, while Pettis was on his way to cutting down to that weight in July.
Pettis would have the strength advantage either way, but Aldo has great takedown defense and knows how to land strikes on the toughest angles. You won’t see him leave his arm out like Henderson did, if the fight goes to the ground. This fight will mostly be standing up and both fighters will work to find an opening. Aldo has unbelievable leg kicks, while Pettis’ may have the best kicks to the body in the world.
Those kicks to the body damaged Henderson at one point in the fight. He can be so unpredictable with the way he kicks that the fight could end in an instant. This is one fight that I would wait until Thursday night before the fight on Saturday to make an actual prediction. It’s that close between both fighters. I’m still waiting to see Aldo get truly tested and be pushed to the limit. After seeing how Pettis’ finished his opponents in the first round in three consecutive fights, he may be able to finally do that.
Some people may completely discount T.J Grant if he were to fight Pettis. It could be the lack of popularity or how his lack of speed is a major liability against Pettis. That may be the case, but he would be the first choice to get a title shot lightweight. His performance against Gray Maynard was impressive and has been on a five-fight win streak.
Similar to Henderson, it seems likely Grant would close the distance and make Pettis work in the clinch. He wouldn’t allow much room for Pettis to set up his lethal kicks. In the first round, it didn’t surprise me at all to see Henderson try to make the fight ugly and make Pettis work to get space. Even though it didn’t work, it would be Grant’s best option. The more you watch Pettis fight, the more you realize that getting into a striking match isn’t a good idea.
Grant does have knockout power, but I’m worried that Pettis’ speed would overwhelm him. That is why Grant will have to attempt to go for takedowns and work in the clinch. He has shown that he can be relentless by unleashing punches and elbows against the cage. He’ll be a heavy underdog, but Grant has the tools to potentially be a matchup nightmare for Pettis. It’ll come down to his pace and if he can smother Pettis’ throughout the fight.
Hopefully Pettis’ injury isn’t that severe and he can fight on the Super Bowl weekend card. From a promoter perspective, I could only imagine that Dana White sees huge upside in making the main event between Aldo and Pettis. Even though I feel like there are title contenders at both featherweight and lightweight, it’s a business at the end of the day.
Of course, I could be wrong and they would book Ricardo Lamas or Chad Mendes get the next title shot against Aldo. Anything could happen from now to February 2014, but I could imagine that scenario right now. As for the tougher fight, Aldo is obviously the tougher matchup for Pettis. That being said, Grant’s grit and the willingness to bully his opponent against the cage could present a huge challenge. Pettis is far from the strongest fighter at lightweight.
I’m not saying Pettis’ is flawed at defending against the cage. He is no shape a liability there compared to the likes of Frank Mir or Stephan Struve. I’ve been convinced that he’s a complete fighter. Now he needs the long title reign to prove that he’s pound for pound one of the best fighters in the world. That starts in his first title defense or a super fight against one of the pound for pound best fighters in the world.