Who wins the Anthony Pettis vs. Eddie Alvarez co-main event at UFC Fight Night 81, and how? What’s next for each given Conor McGregor’s expected move up to face champ Rafael dos Anjos?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
For years fans played the hypothetical game with Eddie Alvarez. One of the best fighters not in the UFC was constantly thrown into hypothetical situations about how he would fare in the world’s greatest MMA promotion. When the UFC signed the free agent Alvarez after the expiration of his Bellator deal in 2012, the answer of where Alvarez fit among the best in the world at lightweight was set to be answered. Fast forward almost three and a half years and Alvarez has only had two fights in the UFC, and is still something of a mystery as to where he fits into the 155 pound picture. Bellator did not want to let him go, and they “matched” the UFC’s offer, prompting a prolonged legal battle that finally ended with Alvarez fighting another time in Bellator before walking out the door as their reigning champion.
Anthony Pettis, on the other hand, has long been an apparent can’t-miss fighter on the UFC’s roster. He’s uber-talented, and brings ninja/video game moves to the cage. “Showtime” is one of those fighters who appears to needlessly go out of his way to make highlights, but then validates it when it pays off in amazing fashion. Besides an unexpected loss to Rafael dos Anjos, the biggest challenge to Pettis’ career has been his inability to stay healthy. He’s managed a fight a year for each of the past two years, along the way robbing us of a dream match against Jose Aldo.
Alvarez has gone on record as saying he’s going to control where the fight goes, and his ability to take damage will be a major factor in a victory. He’s hit the nail on the head as to what it will take to beat the former champ. Pettis works best from a distance where he’s able to take people apart with his kicks. Anyone who’s watched a Pettis fight knows that fighters who have had successful moments against him do so mostly when they close the distance and take that advantage away. This is the start of the blueprint in beating Showtime. The problem is that Pettis has typically weathered the storm, and managed to find enough daylight to throw an incapacitating strike. Dos Anjos was one of the few exceptions who managed to keep his foot on the gas the entire time and not get caught.
That brings us to the second part of Alvarez’s equation. Alvarez can assuredly take damage, as evidenced by what Gilbert Melendez did to him, but Pettis throws crippling strikes that make pain tolerance almost moot. I’m not convinced anyone can stand up to the type of fire that Pettis can throw, and Alvarez would be wise not to test his resilience in any type of fire fight.
Alvarez is a very technical boxer, with good movement, but that doesn’t mean he should keep this fight standing. A striking affair favors Pettis, and may very well spell a short night for Alvarez. Pettis is going to try to keep the fight standing, and Alvarez would be wise to close the distance to negate the power that Showtime can generate. Pettis, ever the epitome of an offensive fighter, is great at attacking off of his back for submissions, so an Alvarez takedown doesn’t necessarily get him out of the danger zone. Pettis is used to fighting bigger fighters than he, and Alvarez doesn’t hold the same size advantage that some of his previous opponents have, as he’s a closer to Pettis in size than, say, Benson Henderson was.
At the end of the day, Pettis has too many ways to win this fight. Alvarez is a tough and skilled opponent, but his run in the UFC hasn’t exactly led anyone to believe he’s going to ever hold the title. Pettis has never been finished, and Alvarez isn’t going to be able to generate the pressure he needs to keep him off his game. Pettis finds an opening and finishes this fight by second round TKO.
There is little doubt in my mind that the winner of this match will be the next challenger for the Lightweight Title. The UFC pegged Alvarez as a fighter who would help them tap into the Latino community, a fan base with a rich history of combat sport athletes. Pettis also fits this bill, and doubles down on the fan appeal as a good looking young man with an exciting fighting style. A dream scenario for many (including yours truly) would be McGregor vs. Pettis headlining UFC 200, which would unfortunately screw Frankie Edgar (again). There’s also the possibility that either Pettis or Alvarez could drop to 145 lbs to fight for the Featherweight Title, but if McGregor is indeed holding the lightweight belt, the only impetus for doing this would be to keep from holding up the featherweight division. Either way, can’t wait to see the fallout of this fight combined with the insanity of March 5.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think Pettis win a close decision. Alvarez is way too tough to think Pettis rolls through him. In fact, I would be stunned if Pettis is able to finish him. Anthony Pettis is a great fighter, but Eddie Alvarez is one of the toughest fighters out there. As for what happens next, Pettis wasn’t going to get the next title shot regardless, so that’s a non-issue there. Alvarez, on the other hand, could make an argument for a title shot if he wins, but that would be a bridge to cross when you get to it. I think the winner faces Tony Ferguson in a title eliminator fight. The loser moves to rebuild mode and has to start over. Luckily for them, with the way the division is, it won’t take too much to get back in the title mix.
BRAD WALKER MMATORCH COLUMNIST
I think we see an angry and supercharged Pettis storm into the Octagon and absolutely out-class, out-strike, and out-work Alvarez with an incredible pace that makes us believe he will not only fight the winner of McGregor and Dos Anjos but strong enough to make us believe he can win it. It’s the return of “Showtime” in a big way and with nothing held back, he wants his title back around his waist, and he’s going to lay waste to everyone on his trip back to the top. He’s a man with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s not going to stop until he succeeds sufficiently to achieve his goal to become undoubtedly one of the greatest lightweight fighters to ever fight in the sport.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Every time Pettis has a long layoff (which would be every fight except his last one), he ends up looking fantastic. He’s coming off of a long layoff. Pettis wins.
In all seriousness, I struggle to see Alvarez winning this one. Alvarez doesn’t have the same type of pressure strategy that cost Pettis his belt (aka Rafael dos Anjos) and Pettis possesses underrated in-game adjustments. It doesn’t take him long to get a feel for where his opponent’s holes are and then he strikes quickly. Remember him losing the first round to Gilbert Melendez only for him to turn things around in the second round? Or quickly turning the table on Benson Henderson within a round in their second meeting? With that said, Alvarez is one tough SOB and should land his fair share of shots early, but I fully expect Pettis to get a finish before the end of the second round.
If RDA retains the belt, Pettis is going to need at least one more win before getting another shot since their fight wasn’t close at all. Nate Diaz only wants high profile fights and it is clear he isn’t getting McGregor. I could see him getting Pettis. If McGregor proves successful in his quest for a second belt, Pettis would probably get Tony Ferguson in a fight to prove the number one contender. So why Ferguson if McGregor wins? Ferguson probably gets the next shot if RDA wins, so he wouldn’t be available.
Alvarez has been getting a murderer’s row of fights (all of his opponent’s have been involved in the last three title fights with RDA being the lone exception) and will benefit from a step down in competition. That doesn’t mean Edson Barboza is an easy fight for him, but he isn’t a title contender.
[Photo (c) Joe Camporeale via USA Today Sports]
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