In late October, UFC President Dana White made one of the first big announcements of the UFC/WEC merger. He said the winner of last week’s WEC lightweight title fight between Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis would face the winner of January’s UFC 125 title fight between champ Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard.
Although that seemed a long ways away at the time of the announcement, the first chapter in that book was written last week in dramatic fashion when Pettis won a highly entertaining decision over Henderson at the final WEC event, WEC 53: Henderson vs Pettis.
Pettis punctuated his unanimous decision win with an Onk Bak-style springboard kick off of the cage that connected on Henderson’s chin and knocked ‘Smooth’ to the ground.
Despite his crowd pleasing style and his four-fight win streak, Pettis has no easy task ahead of him as the last defender of the WEC lightweight championship. Waiting for him will be either Edgar or Maynard, both of whom are superior wrestlers. Edgar is the current champion, having bested the venerable BJ Penn twice with his frantic wrestling style, but his lone loss was to Maynard, who used a more controlled grappling game to suffocate Edgar from the top.
Pettis’ peculiar strikes can always catch anyone from any angle, but he’s going to have to improve his scrambling game and his defense on the ground once he treads in to the deep waters of the UFC lightweight division. The division is full of ground sharks, so even if he dispatches of either Maynard or Edgar, there is going to be a Sean Sherk or a BJ Penn or a Kenny Florian waiting around the corner.
The 23-year-old Pettis was featured on MTV’s ‘World of Jenks’ earlier this year. The docu-drama show followed his life as a fighter in the weeks leading up to his TKO win over Danny Castillo at WEC 47. The Duke Roufus-coached Pettis is riding a four-fight win streak and is 13-1 in his career. His lone loss came at WEC 45 in a unanimous decision loss to veteran Bart Palaszewski.
Although he is next in line for a shot at the UFC lightweight title, he may as well just be a small fish in a big pond when the bright lights and grand theatrics of the Octagon enclose him with one of the animals in the UFC lightweight division.