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At Long Last, It’s Finally “Showtime” for Anthony Pettis

By Trent Reinsmith 

There’s a scene in The Simpsons episode, “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” where a fight breaks out between Fat Tony’s gang and the Yakuza. While the battle rages in front of the Simpson residence, there is one Yakuza dressed in a white suit that stands with his arms crossed doing nothing. Seeing this, Homer remarks to Marge, “That little guy hasn’t done anything yet. Look at him. He’s going to do something, and you know it’s going to be good.” That’s how I felt watching UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis face Gilbert Melendez in the co-headlining fight at UFC 181.

When the fight began it was clear that Melendez, the then number one ranked UFC lightweight contender, intended to put as much pressure as possible on the defending champ. Melendez’s objective was to remove space and time, two things Pettis has used to great effect, from the champ’s arsenal.

Melendez, the former Strikeforce lightweight champion, was successful for most of the first round. Sure, he ate a couple kicks, but he was never in danger. Melendez controlled the pace and location of the fight for the majority of those five minutes. As cageside commentator Joe Rogan remarked as the first stanza came to a close, “This is the perfect fight for Gilbert right now. If he keeps this up, this is the type of fight he can win.”

When the fighters went to their corners, Jake Shields remarked to Melendez, “He doesn’t like your pressure.” And from the way Pettis looked as the second round was set to begin, mouth open and sucking air while his stomach heaved; those words did not come across as idle cornerman bullshit. Across from Pettis stood a confident and composed Melendez.

When the second round began, Melendez again pressured Pettis, cutting off angles and keeping the champion on his heels. The challenger kept Pettis on the defensive.

Until he didn’t.

After a brief striking exchange, Melendez dove in for a single leg takedown. It wasn’t a perfect attempt. In the process of going for that takedown, Melendez left his neck exposed for a split second, and that’s when Pettis did something good.

Pettis latched on to Melendez’s exposed neck and dropped into guard, immediately tightening a guillotine choke. The choke forced Melendez to tap for this first time in his twelve-year professional mixed martial arts career.

It was the second time in two fights that Pettis had finished a fight with a spectacular submission. The first, an armbar on then UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at UFC 164, earned Pettis UFC gold.

Prior to the two recent submission victories, Pettis had earned a TKO victory over Donald Cerrone and a knockout win over Joe Lauzon. Both of those wins, like his triumphs over Melendez and Henderson earned him Fight Night Bonus awards.

Just how dominating has Pettis been in his last four contests? Well, if time spent in the Octagon is something you put stock in, he’s been overwhelming. In those four fights, Pettis has spent a total of just over 15 minutes in the Octagon. Melendez was the only fighter that took him out of the first round in those contests.

Another thing to consider is the fact that Pettis is walking through legitimate top-level competition during his run. His wins are not like the victories of UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, where the competition is based on some vague idea of potential. Melendez, Henderson and Cerrone have long been recognized as top tier UFC talent.

Another thing to take into account is the fact that Pettis does not play it safe, a charge that has been leveled at UFC featherweight champion and current number two ranked UFC pound-for-pound competitor Jose Aldo. Playing it safe or laying back and looking for a decision are not things Pettis has shown any affinity for.

Pettis has been so overwhelming as of late that terms thrown around by Rogan, such as “monster,” “devastating,” “nasty,” “dynamic,” and “scary” seem to miss the mark when it comes to Pettis. At this point, the only fighter you can compare him to in the “what will we see next from him” category is UFC light heavyweight champion and number one pound-for-pound fighter Jon Jones.

Perhaps the most fitting word to describe Pettis is the nickname that is emblazoned across his shoulder blades – “Showtime”. It’s one of the few times in MMA that a fighter’s nickname is 100 percent accurate.

Sadly, we haven’t seen all that much of Pettis. Since making his UFC debut in June 2011 injuries have limited him to just six trips to the Octagon. Hell, UFC welterweight Neil Magny fought inside the Octagon six times between Pettis’ last two fights. In the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” sport, it’s hard to fathom how much attention Pettis would be receiving if he had managed to stay healthy and active.

If Pettis pull off another spectacular fight ending move when he faces number one ranked contender Rafael dos Anjos on Saturday at UFC 185, he may just become the fighter that gets fans to once again focus on the sub-170 pound UFC fighters — a group that has been overlooked by many fight fans since the heyday of B.J. Penn.

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