Rated Next continues with a look at the lightweight division
When you’re picking fighters who have the potential to become the torchbearers for their division in the future, you’re going to run into some situations where people think you’re taking the easy way out.
Most divisions have one or two guys that casual fans can point to as potential stars, guys who have gotten enough attention to land of the brink of being household names. Featherweight selection Chad Mendes probably falls into that category, as does my selection here in the lightweight division.
As always, there’s a rub, and this time it comes in the form of an MMA adage, “Anything can happen.”
“The Machida Era” lasted less than a year and can’t miss prospects miss all the time. While making the obvious selection may seem like the easy way out, there are no guarantees that the guy everyone agrees is destined for stardom will ever make it there.
For every Jon Jones there is a Sokoudjou; sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong.
There is a lot of pressure on Anthony Pettis heading into this summer.
For starters, how do you follow up the coolest move in MMA history? His “Showtime Kick” against Ben Henderson at WEC 53 made numerous “Plays of the Year” highlight reels and rightfully so, but now people are watching even closer to see what the 24-year-old does for an encore.
A lot of people questioned whether Pettis, the final lightweight champion in WEC history, deserved to be placed into a title unification bout with the reigning UFC champion following his win over Henderson.
Fate intervened in the form of the UFC 125 draw between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. With the UFC’s top two lightweights required to settle things once and for all, Pettis picked a fight with Clay Guida over an extended stay on the sidelines.
It’s a risky move, but also one that aids in my selection of the Duke Roufus trained fighter for this spot. I like a fighter who likes to prove people wrong, and Pettis has been doing that for the last 14 months.
Back then, few people knew who he was; just another WEC lightweight coming into a must-win fight against Danny Castillo as the underdog. Pettis needed just over two minutes to knockout the Team Alpha Male member, and he hasn’t looked back since, rattling off three more victories to earn his place near the top of the heap in the UFC.
What makes Pettis stand out for me is what I call the Jon Jones factor. Just like the UFC light heavyweight champion, you can’t truly prepare for a fight with Pettis because there is no way of knowing what to expect.
In addition to running up the cage wall and kicking Henderson in the face, Pettis has used capoeira kicks, out-wrestled All-American wrestlers, and finished guys with strikes and submissions. He’s fast, creative and keeps getting better with every fight.
How do you build a strategy to counter all that? I don’t know if you can.
No division in the UFC is deeper than the 155-pound ranks, which makes the task of climbing to the top even more challenging for Pettis. Something tells me he wouldn’t have it any other way.