At the end of 2014, “Showtime” was at a point in his career most fighters will only dream of reaching.
Anthony Pettis capped off the year by defending his UFC lightweight title at UFC 181, submitting Gilbert Melendez. He had won the belt over a year earlier, but sustained injuries that kept him on the sidelines. Naysayers cited a tendency for injury as a reason why he would never achieve greatness. But with a second round guillotine choke, Pettis silenced that theory.
Before that all important first title defense, Pettis looked like he was a lock as the “next big thing” for the UFC. Before his fight with Melendez, Dana White had dubbed “Showtime” the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in an interview with Jim Rome.
“Honestly, I think Pettis is the best fighter in the world if the kid can stay healthy. This kid is able to do things to people that other people can’t do. The famous run-off-the-cage kick, he bounces off the cage and hits people with knees.”
His fan-friendly, championship caliber fighting style matched a marketable look and a personality that oozed “swagger”. This was on display for the entire world when, in that same week in December, he found himself on the cover of Wheaties. No other mixed martial artists had ever donned the cover of the world-famous cereal brand; a cover that had been previously graced by Olympians and athletes like Michael Jordan.
There was seemingly no end to “Showtime” in sight.
A shocking fall from the top
The fight game is brutal. The fight game does not care who you are or what you’re meant to do in the future. If you are not the best man in the octagon on a given night, you will be exposed more often than not.
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis is just one of the many examples of this harsh reality.
Three years ago, Anthony Pettis was at the apex of the sport, he’s gone just 2-5 since. At UFC 185, Pettis lost his belt in a one-sided beat down to underdog Rafael Dos Anjos, a fight that saw Pettis lose all five rounds. That performance began a three fight losing streak followed by an uninspiring three round decision loss to Eddie Alvarez and a loss where he was wholly out-struck by Edson Barboza.
These three losses were to top competition, but Pettis’ performances were alarming. The devastating kicks that had netted him TKO wins over Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone had seemingly disappeared. He got bullied and outworked in all three fights, something we had not seen from “Showtime” before.
His last four fights have shown a glimmer of hope seeing Pettis go 2-2, including an ultimately failed drop to the featherweight division, but he is still nowhere near where he once was in the sport.
Despite several years of struggles, Pettis is still only 31 and a return to prime “Showtime” is not a hopeless endeavor, an endeavor that will continue at UFC 223 against Michael Chiesa.
The “show” must go on
Anthony Pettis’ upcoming bout with Michael Chiesa at UFC 223 is more than just an attempt to climb the rankings once again. Equipped with a new mindset, one less focused on getting back his title, Pettis looks to defy his critics and reinstate the once glorious reputation of “Showtime”. Pettis will look to stifle Chiesa’s grind with a devastating, unpredictable kicking arsenal. His lighting quick agility on the ground will also come into play against Chiesa.
Chiesa doesn’t just give Pettis a chance to climb the rankings, but will give him the opportunity to defeat a style of foe that has been instrumental in his recent struggles. Similarly to RDA, Eddie Alvarez, and most recently Dustin Poirier, Chiesa will look to make the fight “ugly” and keep the pressure on Pettis. Rendering his ability to kick freely will kickstart his devastating offense.
In a ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport, many have forgotten the legacy of “Showtime”. Now, many critics see Pettis as merely a gatekeeper and a shell of his former self. A decisive win over the caliber and style of fighter like Michael Chiesa can help erase this notion. A win will not only bring Pettis up the ranking, but will remind everyone that it’s still “Showtime”.