Sometimes, a fighter’s hype gets crushed in a hurry. Anthony Pettis was all set to be a challenger to the UFC lightweight title. As the WEC lightweight champion, he was flying high, with the fame resulting from his spectacular “showtime kick” that he unleashed against Ben Henderson.
Then Frank Edgar and Gray Maynard fought to a draw at UFC 125. Suddenly, Pettis was forced into a situation in which he would either have to wait to fight for the title, or accept a fight and risk his UFC challenger status in the interim. Pettis chose to accept a fight, and he wound up losing in a relatively dull fight against Clay Guida. Now, instead of being the man set to challenge Edgar for the title at UFC 136, Pettis finds himself on the preliminaries against mid-level UFC lightweight Jeremy Stephens.
While I’m sure Pettis isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, I think this is a more appropriate fight for him. While Pettis was truly impressive in that WEC victory against Henderson, that win represents his only truly high-level victory. After that, his next-best wins are Shane Roller and Danny Castillo, and after that, we get to names like Alex Karalexis. Meanwhile, Pettis does have a split-decision loss to Bart Palaszewski on his record to go along with the loss to Guida. While the Palaszewski decision could be debated, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that Pettis should prove himself a little more before launching him back into title contention.
His opponent will be Jeremy Stephens, a well-established lightweight fighter in the sense that we pretty much know how good he is at this point. Stephens is certainly good enough to belong in the UFC; none of his six career losses were to opponents who were below the UFC-quality standard, and he’s beaten respectable names such as Rafael dos Anjos, Cole Miller, and Sam Stout.
Both guys like to stand and bang, so I highly anticipate that this fight will consist of a lot of striking and not a lot of other things. I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing for Pettis. While Pettis has established a reputation as a creative striker in the Duke Roufus mold, he’s far from the most prolific striker in the UFC. The Fight Metric statistics for Pettis show a fighter who struggles to land a lot of significant strikes in his fights. In fact, the most significant strikes Pettis has landed in a fight is 42, and that was in a 25-minute championship fight against Ben Henderson.
SILVA PREDICTION: ANTHONY PETTIS (32.43) OVER JEREMY STEPHENS (30.33)
While this doesn’t mean that I think Pettis will lose to Stephens, it does mean that this looks like a fight that will be closer than some may expect, as Stephens simply strikes with more volume than Pettis does. The key difference in this fight is Pettis’s win over Henderson; Stephens has never been able to defeat an opponent of similar quality. But when this fight starts, I’ll expect strikes to go both ways, and I’ll expect that the fight could go either way. I do think Pettis has the edge here, but it’s a small edge.