Sometimes you don’t know you need a fight until you need it, and such a fight came together in the past week…
It was announced formally on Saturday night that former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis will be stepping up to 170 pound division for the first time in the UFC against former two-time title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in the main event of the UFC’s return to Nashville on March 23. The bout will headline a show on ESPN+.
It is a bold step for Pettis, who just six fights ago dropped down to the 145 pound class for a run at the title. After missing weight for an interim title bout with Max Holloway in December 2016, Pettis went back up to 155 and went 2-2, but his last two fights were an excellent submission victory over Michael Chiesea and brilliant performance against Tony Ferguson in October at UFC 229, where he put Ferguson down on the mat with a big shot, but had to retire at the end of the second round with a broken hand.
Pettis (21-8, 8-7 UFC) is just the latest fighter and top flight competitor to move up in weight with the hope that concentrating on technique rather than losing weight during training camp will lead to more success during the cage. Future light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith is one such fighter, as is former Pettis victim Chiesea. Yet given that Pettis will be short for the division at 5’10 and the top five at welterweight is full of big power wrestlers, the kind of fighter that gives “Showtime” the most trouble.
The fight will end a significant layoff for Wonderboy (14-3-1, 9-3-1 UFC), who hasn’t fought since losing to controversial decision to Darren Till last May in Till’s hometown of Liverpool, England. Most thought that Wonderboy deserved the decision, just as many thought he did in two fights against champion Tyron Woodley. Those fights, in November 2016 and March 2017, ended a disputed draw and split decision lost for the karate master.
Both of these men come to the table with vast traditional martial arts backgrounds, Pettis in Tae Kwan Do and Wonderboy in Karate. They are both listed among the most dangerous kickers in the UFC and have a slew of headkick knockouts to their name. Given this, along with neither having a real desire to take the fight to the ground, we may have the recipe for a standup war.
Given that Wonderboy is 1-2-1 is last four, he needs a win just a badly as Pettis, who has gone 3-6 since, including the shutout loss he suffered to Rafael Dos Anjos in May 2015 that saw him give up the UFC lightweight title. That need, combined with all these factors, could lead to a point karate match in the cage or a headkick festival.
Let’s pray to the MMA gods for the latter.