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Why Anthony Pettis Should Get the Next Title Shot

By on February 27, 2012

Frankie Edgar has a good case for deserving an immediate rematch with new UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson. In fact, he’s got a great case. Let’s see:

–He granted an immediate rematch to former champion BJ Penn when he first took the title from Penn in 2010. This was the case even though Edgar won a unanimous decision.

–Edgar had defended the belt successfully three times (for a champion’s purposes, a draw is a successful defense since the challenger does not get the title), which is a feat that no lightweight, other than Penn, has achieved.

–Dana White himself believes that Edgar won the bout, 48-47.

Yet White himself says that Pettis will likely be the first to challenge Henderson for the title. So what gives?

Well, if the UFC gave title shots strictly on the basis of merit, using formal rankings or a similar device, you could make a case for Edgar. A compelling one, at that. The problem is that the UFC has never given title shots strictly on the basis of merit, and that’s why Edgar’s argument that he should get a rematch will ultimately fall on deaf ears.

Ask Jon Fitch whether the UFC is run strictly as a sport. Jake Shields got a welterweight title shot after a lengthy win streak outside of the UFC, followed by a split decision win over Martin Kampmann in his debut with the organization. Dan Hardy got a shot after four UFC wins, against the likes of Akihiro Gono, Rory Markham, Marcus Davis and Mike Swick. Josh Koscheck got his opportunity after three straight wins, which were against Frank Trigg, Anthony Johnson and Paul Daley. He didn’t have to fight anyone even in the top five to get a title shot. Fitch? He won eight in a row and beat fellow top-five welterweight Thiago Alves to get his shot.

You can’t really justify the decision with the UFC’s reluctance to do rematches, because that reluctance is often inconsistent. Sure, they didn’t do Silva-Henderson 2 or GSP-Fitch 2, even if they were justifiable. Matt Hughes didn’t get an immediate rematch when GSP dethroned him, either. However, there have been other times, such as Penn-Edgar 2 or Machida-Shogun 2, where an immediate rematch followed a contentious decision.

You have to look further to see why the UFC is foregoing an immediate rematch. For instance, who exactly were fans dying to see challenge Edgar when he took the title from Penn? There was no really great contender that we all wanted to see step in there.

Now? We’ve got Anthony Pettis. Pettis is a great choice to fight Henderson because:

1) He already had a great fight with Henderson at the end of 2010. A fight, by the way, that many UFC fans haven’t even seen because it took place in World Extreme Cagefighting, which was a criminally underrated promotion that was often ignored by casual fans.

2) Pettis was already burned once by an immediate rematch, as he was announced to be the next challenger for Edgar before the champion and Gray Maynard fought to a draw last year. Instead of waiting for the rematch, Pettis fought Clay Guida and lost a tough decision.

3) The fans have seen too many immediate rematches in the lightweight division lately. Is it fair that Edgar be deprived of an immediate rematch that he likely deserves simply because we already saw him fight both Penn and Maynard twice in a row? Of course not. However, we’ve already established that the UFC doesn’t issue title shots based purely on merit.

The fans want to see Henderson-Pettis 2. For better or for worse, MMA as a sport and the UFC as an organization are very susceptible to fan influence. Without the uproar over Machida-Shogun or more recently, Condit-Diaz would the UFC have put together rematches of those fights (or tried to, in the latter example)? Likely not. Hell, we even saw Tito Ortiz beat up on poor Ken Shamrock a third time because the fans thought the stoppage to their second one-sided meeting was a bit hasty.

When you weight the criteria the way that the UFC does when giving title shots, with a heavy emphasis on what the fans want to see, Anthony Pettis is definitely the best choice for Ben Henderson’s first title defense. For better or worse, the UFC often has less to do with sport iself and more to do with entertainment. Frankie Edgar will be back. For now, bring on Henderson-Pettis 2.

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2 comments
  1. Mick says:

    You said it succinctly enough albeit way too chicken-shit. The UFC ops for entertainment (MONEY) more than for the sport.

    I think that single fact will in time come back and bite Dana White in the ass. My bottom line is “who is next” period. You make these great references of other title fights and those fighters that became the next sensation overnight. None of them deserved to fight for the title and neither does Pettis. Shields, Hardy and Koscheck all lost but that too seems to have little influence against the undisputed king of all weight classes in the mighty “greenback”.

    BTW I thought Maynard won the bout with Henderson because I come from an older school that the challenger must clearly and decisively defeat the champion. Frankie was not nearly defeated because his face was jacked a little. They’re fucking fighters. Some show the wear more than others. If you listen as you watch the fight again or for the first time Joe Rogan, once again consistent with his obvious “I heart Ben Henderson” mouth from the first buzzer to the last sends every signal and indicator he can muster that he wants the belt to change hands.

    Just sayin’

  2. Jon Hartley says:

    It may have come off “chicken-shit” because I don’t really disagree with the UFC. They do need to balance entertainment value with pure sport, and if they hadn’t done so in the past they wouldn’t be where they are today.

    Now, I personally would have liked to have seen Jon Fitch get another shot or seen someone like Dan Hardy had to fight a top guy before getting his title shot, but I’m probably in the minority there.

    In this case, I don’t have a real problem with it because I acknowledge that fans (and myself) are tired of watching lightweight title rematches and want something new. I disagree about Pettis and think he does deserve a title shot. Other than getting laid on top of by Clay Guida (in a fight where the judges favored control over aggression and attempts to finish the fight), he’s been outstanding the last couple of years and would have already gotten a shot if it wasn’t for the Edgar-Maynard 2 draw and resulting rematch.

    I agree that you can’t just look at a fighter’s face and say that someone won or lost based off that. Some guys don’t show damage on their faces as well as others, and some cut easier than others, too. As a former boxer you definitely know that. However, it was clear to me even without the facial damage that Henderson landed the better shots. There are some who agree with you that the champ should have to be decisively beaten to lose his title, but that’s not a part of the judging criteria and judges aren’t instructed to show any such favor to champs. Personally, I’m fine with that and I think the winner should be the winner, whether it’s for a title or not.




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