At times, Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis has looked borderline unbeatable. It feels like a distant memory, but Pettis’ solitary title defense opposite Gilbert Melendez was certainly one of those times. Even though he’d been inactive going in, Pettis looked incredible that night, out-striking Melendez before scoring a 2nd round submission to become the first man to finish the former Strikeforce king. It wouldn't be a long lay-off before his next defense either, returning after just 3 months to take on top contender Rafael Dos Anjos.
In hindsight though, that fight would start a new chapter in Pettis’ career. Losing his title, Pettis would go from champion to fringe contender in just 3 fights, also losing decisions to Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza. With a losing streak compiled out of nowhere, Pettis suddenly looked directionless and in response, opted to drop down to 145lbs. That stint only lasted two fights though, starting with a win over Charles Oliveira and ending in defeat against Max Holloway, a fight Pettis also missed weight for.
Returning to Lightweight, Pettis also returned to the win column, outpointing Jim Miller before coming up short in a main event opposite Dustin Poirier. After once standing atop the UFC’s Lightweight division, Pettis’ newly found ceiling suddenly seemed cemented. He obviously remained a very good fighter but with 5 losses in his last 7 bouts, ‘Showtime’ looked far removed from his former glory. The former champion was only losing to the elite of course, but it wasn't just the results that had seemingly changed.
In fact, there was a general spark missing from Pettis’ performance. This didn't feel or look like the man that had once fought with such flash and flair. There was a confidence to that younger version of Pettis too, a personality that flowed within his innovative approach. It felt as though there was no limit to his next move either, with Pettis scattering moments of absurd athleticism in-between the traditional striking brilliance that’d often close the show anyway. That version of Pettis was quite special but unfortunately, it looked as though it’d become a thing of the past.
However, with Pettis’ UFC career still very much intact, he certainly had some remaining chances to turn the tide and at UFC 226, he’d get just that. Taking on Michael Chiesa, many onlookers felt that Pettis was set for another defeat, especially considering the familiar and somewhat ominous styles clash. Early on, that exact analysis would earn some credence too, with Chiesa scoring a takedown almost immediately to take control of things. Pettis stayed calm though, slowly but surely turning it into his fight along the way.
By the end of the first round, Pettis was the one pushing the pace also, dictating the action and even getting in Chiesa’s face after the buzzer sounded. It was almost like in that brief portion of action, Pettis had snapped into motion, fighting with a swagger and aggression that hadn't been seen in quite some time. This suddenly felt like a real matter of pride for Pettis, a chance to prove that he not only still belongs but more than that, he remains amongst the elite.
In the 2nd round, Pettis closed the show too, scoring a submission win to cap off what had been a vintage ‘Showtime’ performance. It was almost a tribute to the man that had once become WEC and UFC Champion. He was dynamic on the feet and immediately attacked once things hit the ground also, throwing up submissions and being offensive at all times. This was a far cry from the Pettis we’d seen look almost frozen by his defensive concerns, instead defiantly taking the initiative himself.
Pettis spoke about this both pre and post-fight, citing an intention to maximize his strengths rather than spending his fights worrying about his weaknesses. In theory, that approach makes a ton of sense and against Chiesa, it worked in execution too but now it becomes a matter of consistency. This Saturday night, Pettis finds himself in the co-main event of the highly anticipated UFC 229 event. His opponent: Tony Ferguson, a man without a defeat since 2012. For Pettis though, this is surely about more than just a win or loss.
At 31, Pettis obviously still has a lot left to offer and a strong showing opposite Ferguson would certainly bode well in that sense. Fresh off his best win in years though, it’s pivotal that Pettis furthers that momentum with a performance in the same vein. Win, lose or draw, Pettis’ future likely hinges on that aforementioned ideology. The former champion may never be a perfect fighter but on his strengths alone, Pettis can be one of the Lightweight division’s greatest assets. To put it simply, Pettis just has to embrace ‘Showtime’ as when it’s on, it’s a treat to watch.