UFC 206: Anthony Pettis at Critical Juncture in Career

With a shot at the interim title at UFC 206, Anthony Pettis finds himself with a golden opportunity to re-claim gold at a crossroads in his career.

When it was announced that the interim featherweight title would be up for grabs at UFC 206, no fighter benefitted more than Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.  The former lightweight champion, after having gone 1-3 in his last four fights, now has a chance to become just the fourth fighter to win UFC gold in two different weight classes should he defeat Max Holloway on Saturday night.

Pettis, currently ranked sixth at featherweight, was at one point on the verge of crossover stardom.  In late 2014, he became the first MMA fighter ever to be featured on the Wheaties cereal box.  At the same time, he came off a coaching stint on the The Ultimate Fighter where his fighter Carla Esparza won the strawweight title and he went on to defend his lightweight title against opposing coach Gilbert Melendez.

Pettis appeared to have the perfect mix of attributes for superstardom: an exciting style that made highlight reels everywhere, a dominant reign, all while being personable with fans and the media.

Things took a sharp turn in 2015.  “Showtime” lost the lightweight title in brutal fashion to Rafael dos Anjos.  An injury would keep him out of the cage until 2016 where he dropped back-to-back fights against Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza.  Once the seemingly next dominant champion of the promotion, Pettis now found himself on the outside of the title picture.  Seeking to rejuvenate his career, Pettis made the move down to 145 where he defeated Charles Oliveira in his featherweight debut.

During the bout, the stress of the weight cut appeared to affect Pettis as he struggled with his conditioning despite finishing Oliveira in the third round.  While Pettis was an intriguing new player in the division, he appeared far from a title challenger compared to names like José Aldo, Frankie Edgar, and of course Holloway.

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The situation with Conor McGregor opened the door for Pettis to win a belt much sooner than anyone anticipated.  With McGregor expected to be out for several months for the upcoming birth of his child, Aldo has been promoted to the undisputed featherweight champion and the bout on Saturday was made for the interim title to help bolster the card.

Pettis finds himself in an interesting juncture for a 29-year-old.  Although still one of the most well-known fighters in the UFC, his previous struggles with injuries have some wondering if his skills may already be diminishing despite his young age.  A victory on Saturday would set him up for an exciting bout against Aldo, with the assumption that the winner of that fight will likely face the sport’s biggest star in McGregor at a later date.

If Pettis loses, he would be 1-4 in his last five fights and would certainly be out of the title picture for the foreseeable future.  For a fighter who was once set to be one of the biggest stars the sport had ever seen, the fall would be unceremonious at best.

In Holloway, he faces one of the brightest young stars the sport has seen in recent years.  Ironically, a fighter showing the kind of promise that Pettis once did earlier in his career.  Riding a nine fight win-streak, “Blessed” has been banging on the door for a title shot in 2016 and is looking for the biggest win of his career against the former lightweight champion.

Pettis has the advantage of experience going into the fight.  Should his conditioning be improved in his second cut to 145, he certainly possess the tools to defeat Holloway.  If he can pull out the victory, it would easily rank as one of the most important wins of his career.  With such a turn, it might well be “Showtime” once again for Pettis.