Where do Edson Barboza and Anthony Pettis sit in the lightweight division after UFC 197? Do you think either fighter fights for the title anytime in the future? Why or why not?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Ranking wise I currently have Edson Barboza ranked as the #7 lightweight in the UFC with Anthony Pettis right behind him at #8. Where they sit though is a slightly different answer. Barboza currently sits at “gatekeeper to guys who are on their way to a title shot” while Pettis sits at “really needs to think about dropping to 145 pounds.”
As far as title aspirations, let’s start with Barboza. Defeating Pettis is the signature win his resume has long been lacking. His leg kicks are one of the most devastating weapons in the game today. Having said that, there’s nothing about his game or even this win that suggests he’s going to make any type of real run at to the top. Pettis was an example of the perfect opponent for him to dismantle, someone who isn’t a huge threat to take him down and an opponent whom he could pick apart from range. His skill set just isn’t complete enough to beat the top, more well-rounded fighters in the division. His next match should be against another top 10 fighter, and two such wins would earn him a shot at the belt. Unfortunately this is probably as good as it’s going to get for Barboza. He’s unlikely to beat another fighter with the perceived pedigree that Pettis had coming into this fight.
Pettis’ road back to a 155 pound belt just got much longer. While it’s possible he could fight for the strap again in the future, he’s three ranked wins away from seeing that, or possibly two if the UFC wants to push him due to lack of available opponent or Pettis’ general popularity. Pettis trained with Jackson-Winklejohn for the first time in preparation for the Barboza fight, and it did not seem to make him any better. For most of the fight, he seemed to be overthinking things and was very hesitant to open up and pull the trigger. That’s not to take any credit away from Barboza, who thoroughly out-classed him. The dynamic striking we expected to see from the former champ was just never on display.
We’ve now seen Pettis lose to two guys who got physical and roughed him up, which was always the suspected blueprint to beat him. I don’t see that getting any better in a rematch against Rafael dos Anjos or in a fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov. He’s also gotten beat at his own game, with Barboza getting the better of a stand up affair. With such a long road back, and a good chance he gets derailed along the way, Pettis should seriously give consideration to moving to 145 pounds. He’s not a large lightweight by any means, and he was willing to make the cut a couple years ago to take on Jose Aldo. The smaller opponents may make it easier for him to avoid getting pushed around, and there’s plenty of fun fights to be made. The aforementioned Aldo would be a great choice, and a striking affair against Conor McGregor would be a fan friendly event as well. Regardless, much like Barboza, I don’t expect him to get another crack at the 155 belt in the foreseeable future.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Barboza is surging a bit in my rankings, but I still wonder how much Pettis has fallen. He’s lost to three good fighters in a row, but he hasn’t lost good in those fights. Pettis seems to be a shell of his former self. I don’t know if it’s due to injuries or maybe he’s not training as hard as used to because of his injury history and not wanting to get hurt again, but something is drastically different about him. He was on top of the world for a moment, and now he’s in a full-on freefall. Because of that, I think Barboza needs another big win to get close to a title eliminator fight, but the lightweight division is pretty open. I think Barboza is two wins away from a title shot, but if he fights and beats another top contender in his next fight, maybe he gets the title shot then?
Of the two, I think Barboza has the better chance of fighting for a title. As for Pettis, I don’t know, but this isn’t the same guy. Showtime has been put on hiatus. As this point, he’s in danger of being cut by the UFC. It seems like he needs to start all over and rebuild himself.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
To the dismay of Rich Hansen, I don’t think Anthony Pettis will ever fight for the title again. Unless, every fighter in the UFC suddenly makes an agreement that they will cease to wrestle. Anthony Pettis does not perform well when he is pressured nor when he has to wrestle. So, if you can combine these two tactics, Pettis suddenly isn’t as dynamic as when he’s allowed to lead and get off his offense. To my chagrin, I have been on a lot of hype trains in the past and I was very fortunate to have avoided the Pettis one.
Now when we’re talking about my boy Edson Barboza, now that’s someone I can get behind; he will be the next Lightweight Champion, mark my words. I can just imagine the people reading this working themselves in a tizzy about Barboza getting knocked down by a jab. Although, I do feel since moving his camp to New Jersey and working with striking coach Mark Henry, Barboza has improved drastically. Unfortunately, Barboza is still very hittable and for someone with a suspect chin that’s concerning; he was also taken advantage of on the ground in the Tony Ferguson fight. However, I believe that if fighters in the lightweight division will just agree to stop hitting Barboza and jiu jitsu-ing him on the ground, he will be the next Lightweight Champion.
All kidding aside it’s still very difficult to get a title shot in the lightweight division. While I am surprised Eddie Alvarez is next in line to challenge Rafael dos Anjos for the championship, there is still Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, Donald Cerrone, and Nate Diaz ranked ahead of Barboza. Now let’s be honest, neither Cerrone nor Diaz is going to get another shot at the title, which means that if Barboza continues to win he could be second or third in line for the championship, depending on whether the Eagle can remain healthy. In the meantime, Barboza may have to win a rematch with either Tony Ferguson or Michael Johnson or possibly face Dustin Poirier.
Honestly, I like watching Edson Barboza fight but cannot see him actually being a champion. Will he get a title shot in the near future? Yes, most definitely, but I don’t believe from what I’ve seen he’s as well rounded as he needs to be in order to be champion at lightweight. Which means it was a fluke that Anthony Pettis was ever champion at lightweight because you know…wrestling. Sorry Rich, Pettis let you down, but don’t worry he’ll never take you down.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Even though Barboza has losses to Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson in the last 15 months, those are two quality opponents whom Barboza looked competitive against. That doesn’t even mention Barboza’s exciting style that makes a KO a serious possibility at any time. Eddie Alvarez is getting his shot, Donald Cerrone already had his (and is dallying in welterweight anyway), which means only Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are really ahead of him in the pecking order (Nate Diaz only wants money fights… and already lost to Rafael dos Anjos). Barboza likes to stay busy, so I expect he’ll get two fights while Khabib and Ferguson get their turn. If he wins those, I’d expect that he’ll get a title shot at that point with names like Mike Chiesa, Dustin Poirier, and Beneil Dariush being potential opponents.
Pettis is a long ways out from contention. It isn’t just that he has lost three in a row. It’s that he looked nothing like a champion when he lost his belt to dos Anjos and never threatened Barboza, losing a clear decision. He was competitive with Alvarez, even having an argument that he was the rightful winner. The judges saw differently though and he is now on a losing streak that would get the majority of fighters on the roster a pink slip. As a former champion who has been facing top competition, he isn’t in any danger of being cut, but he faces a long road back to the top. I think at least four wins in a row would be needed which could take a while for someone with the injury history that Pettis has.
[Photo (c) Joshua Dahl via USA Today Sports]
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