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Opinion: Anthony Pettis – Are The Curtains Closing On Showtime?

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 10: Anthony Pettis of the United States looks on in his fight for the Interim Featherweight Title with Max Holloway of the United States during the UFC 206 event at Air Canada Centre on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Anthony Pettis’ latest loss to Max Holloway appears to mark the beginning of the end of a career which has failed to live up to its full potential.

2015 began the same way 2014 ended for “Showtime”- as a champion destined for greatness in the lightweight division. At UFC 181, the 155-pound king returned to the octagon following 16 months out of action after a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury suffered in his Submission of the Night victory over Benson Henderson.

While some questions were asked of his recovery, all eyes were keenly focused on his return to the octagon. Believers and detractors alike had their answers once he submitted Gilbert Melendez to earn a Performance of the Night award, and keep the coveted gold around his waist.

The supremely gifted Milwaukee man seemingly had it all: an impressive skill set, charismatic persona and marketability which looked certain to make him the torch holder of the world’s premier MMA operation. Fast forward to December 2016, and the hype, hope and hyperbole have all but faded.

So, where did it all go wrong?

Rafael dos Anjos was deemed an underdog for their fight at UFC 185 in March 2015, and expected to be dispatched as such. Surprisingly to most, the Brazilian executed a savvy game plan based on pressure, wrestling and smart distance management on his way towards a five-round decision win. In January 2016 (after yet another injury lay-off) Philadelphia’s Eddie Alvarez used Dos Anjos’ blueprint to drag Pettis to the score cards for his second successive loss. At UFC 197, the former champion found himself a victim once again, this time to the practical left-hook and simple low kicks of the tough Edson Barboza in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The ex-WEC champion’s previous loss before Dos Anjos came against Clay Guida on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar v Team Dos Santos Finale. The “L” preceded a five-fight win streak towards championship gold. From these five fights, four ended inside the distance: Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone by KO and TKO, respectively. After this, Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez were defeated by submission. From these four fights, three were finished inside round one, with Melendez lasting just two.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 06: Anthony Pettis reacts after defeating Gilbert Menendez in their lightweight title fight during the UFC 181 event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on December 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

While being renowned for his spectacular offensive skills, the former champ’s stats also suggest a toughness, which is underrated (most notably, durability and a good chin) – Saturday’s third round loss to Holloway was the first stoppage of his career. With reference to his offence, it is arguable that what made Pettis so special may have contributed to his rapid, downward trajectory.

Being a fighter who consistently looks for the early finish, (as witnessed against Dos Anjos and Alvarez) if he is not given ample space (but pushed back, pressured and forced to the fence) his skills are negated. Another consistent theme in his losses is the fact that he gets outworked and out thrown by his opponents who capitalise on his inability to adapt on the back foot, as evidenced by each aforementioned defeat (aside from at UFC 206) ending in decision losses.

Having been all but bullied from the upper tiers of his division, an announcement was made that would see the former face of “Wheaties” and “Form Athletic” drop down to featherweight. An encouraging indication of adjustment began with victory against Charles Oliveira in his 145-pound debut in August this year, despite comments regarding his physical appearance at weigh-ins for the bout.

Things were slowly beginning to look as though they were back on track, and more so when an interim title shot was announced against Holloway at UFC 206. Following the cancellation of Cormier v Johnson due to the former’s injury, Dana White announced that “The Notorious” would be removed from the featherweight ranks, with the (undisputed) title landing back at the feet of Jose Aldo.

The victor of this fight would land a showdown against “Scarface” – the perfect scenario. However, failure to make weight for the fight saw a golden opportunity fade, and also cost 20% of his purse.

“Blessed” walked away with the belt and a fatter pocket, while his opponent could only lament on an opportunity lost.

As a spectacular year for the franchise draws to a close, Pettis is in danger of losing relevance. Four losses in his last five fights is a concern for the the ex-Strikeforce fighter, with susceptibility to injury and “father time” adding to his woes.

A failure to make weight for a shot at the interim featherweight title (and chance at redemption) sums up what has been another year to forget for the once celebrated lightweight. If 2015 was Pettis’ annus horribilis, 2016 is assured to go down as his Waterloo.

What next year holds is uncertain, but with a history of injuries and doubts cast over his ability to meet the 145-pound threshold, it is looking as though the curtains are beginning to close for “Showtime” in the UFC.

Adam Haynes, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.