Ahead of this weekend’s UFC 229, we preview the co-main event pairing between lightweight veterans Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis.
With the night’s main-event set to feature the two most electric lightweights on the planet, we could well have our next contender established before they even kick things off.
Tony Ferguson is one of the sport’s most in-form fighters but has been unfortunately defined in recent times by his bizarre rivalry with Khabib Nurmagomedov and the sheer madness that has seen them unsuccessfully scheduled to fight on four different occasions.
In another era, though, this guy could have been champion. He just happened to land into the 155lb title scene in one of the most exciting times for the sport and as a result, has been forced to wait for his shot at the undisputed belt – despite winning the interim-strap at UFC 216 by submitting Kevin Lee.
He is expected to defeat Anthony Pettis quite handily here and on paper, it would appear as though this will act as something of a showcase as the UFC look to build up El Cucuy to challenge the eventual winner between Khabib and Conor McGregor.
This is a far tighter matchup than most are giving it credit for, though.
There are two narratives surrounding Anthony Pettis going into this fight that I genuinely believe have been blown completely out of proportion.
The first is that he is supposedly ‘back’ after his submission victory over Michael Chiesa at UFC 226.
Credit has to be given, it was the best and most comprehensive victory that ‘Showtime’ has been able to pick up in quite some time but in beating Chiesa, he was taking out a fighter who didn’t really seem to be destined to break into that 155lb top-5, one who was also drained from what seemed like a harrowing – and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make weight.
Pettis looked great, don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to him expressing himself in there because in the fights that followed his 2015 mauling at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos – it really did look like he had lost the fire that saw him set the MMA world alight during his original ascent.
I don’t think he’s back to his best, or if he is, then his best was never at the level that we had perhaps hoped it was when he originally won the WEC and UFC belts.
With that being said, the second notion that people have taken in regards to Pettis that I believe to be questionable is that he has a very slim chance of winning this fight.
If you’re someone who fancies an aul punt in the bookies, Anthony Pettis could well represent the best value on the entire card.
The blueprint to beat him is out there. He doesn’t respond well to wrestlers and he doesn’t like fighting on the back-foot but out of those two, it has been the grinders, the likes of Clay Guida and Eddie Alvarez, who have caused him the most problems by nullifying his game entirely.
Tony Ferguson will apply pressure, that’s for sure, but I highly doubt that he’ll be looking to employ a grappling-heavy approach.
Pettis has the power and, more importantly, the unpredictability to knock out anyone on any given day and when you look at the opponents who have given Tony trouble recently – Lando Vannata, Edson Barboza – it’s clear that he can be hit by a dynamic striker.
This along with the questions over Ferguson’s recent injury and his year-long absence from competition make this one a lot more interesting than many have given it credit for.
So how’s this one going to go?
Well, as shocking as it could end up being, I am still backing El Cucuy to get the job done. His pressure, his cardio, and his grappling (should he choose to use it) stack the deck in his favour sufficiently to make this his fight to lose.
With that being said, the possibility of a Pettis win by stoppage is something that shouldn’t be discounted.
Ferguson’s endurance and ability to recover are both phenomenal but his chin is there to be hit and you never know, as the more active of the two, we could well see an almighty shock in Anthony’s favour.
If I’m making an outright pick, though, I’m going to side with Tony.
Prediction: Tony Ferguson by 29-28 unanimous decision.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena