Whenever “hardcore fans” (among whom I count yours truly) complain that the UFC has swung too far in the direction of casual fan pleasing, its tempting to dismiss us as old farts who sit in our rocking chairs and fantasize about the time a quarter cost a nickel. Yes the matchmaking surrounding Conor McGregor is BS, but he’s pumped an enormous amount of money into the company and raised awareness for the sport worldwide. Yes Ronda Rousey was always overrated, but her lionization is partially responsible for jump in quality of the women’s divisions.
But every now and then we’re proven right, and UFC 206 is one of those times. The collective meh in response to the Anthony Pettis vs. Max Holloway headliner replacement has been head scratching at best, infuriating at worst.
In reality, everyone should be excited for this.
Who’s Fighting: Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (19-5) vs. Max “Blessed” Holloway (16-3)
Come on, you know the Anthony Pettis “Showtime Kick” already. If you are Benson Henderson, please look away and skip to the text.
His Tinder profile is just this GIF and a phone number
I know people resent the move because it’s so overplayed, but I say with a straight face that it may be the greatest MMA moment ever. It was an extremely difficult move attempted on one of the greatest lightweights of all time in the final minute of the final round of the final event in WEC history. Unlike Holm’s decapitation of Rousey or Weidman’s first win against Silva, there was just no way to predict it happening. That’s how absurdly outside the realm of probability the “Showtime Kick” was.
Oh and he also kicked Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone to death before almost snapping Henderson’s arm to take the belt from him a second time. He is a beast of a striker and a beast of a grappler on a scale few can match.
Holloway is only 25 and still improving, and his losses are almost negligible at this point. He first lost to Dustin Poirier in his 5th fight at age 20, which would be his first and only finish. He then dropped a close split to Dennis Bermudez and a decision to the aforementioned McGregor to go 7-3.
Since then he has won nine straight including easy wins over Cub Swanson, Jeremy Stephens and Ricardo Lamas. Now with improved grappling skills, footwork, and a dedicated body attack Holloway is looking scary.
Why Don’t People Care?
Few fighters have seen a fall from grace like Pettis.
Going from a championship belt and a Wheaties box to a three fight losing streak was hard enough, but the UFC hype machine only magnified the loss of credibility. I was worried that Pettis was going the way of Pat Curran, the elite Bellator ex-champion who was very skilled but found himself losing decisions against lesser fighters.
But if Pettis is paying for overexposure, Holloway has the opposite problem.
Despite the competitiveness of 145 lbs, it is a division devoid of any real needle movers. The champion Jose Aldo didn’t speak English, and anyone who could kept getting their asses beat by him. Frankie Edgar had the best shots, but Aldo is an exceptional counter wrestler and after two losses it’s unlikely he’ll fight for the title again. Conor McGregor skipped the line to take the belt sure, but he did shine some light on the division. And now his departure and Aldo’s refusal for anything less than a rematch has left the division in worse shape than before.
Holloway’s wins on pay-per-view cards have been decisions, while his best work was on the lesser viewed free fights. Yes he absolutely waxed Cub Swanson, but that was buried on UFC on FOX 15 of which I’m willing to bet few can recall the event card.
If a man chokes out another man but no one sees it, did it really happened?
Now instead of a rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson for the light heavyweight title, we have an interim fight between a fighter who is 1-3 in his last four and a contender no one seems to care about. That too, a title that only Holloway can win because of Pettis missing weight.
Why Should You Care?
Seeing Pettis beat Charles Oliveira breathed hope into his fan base.
Oliveira is an absolutely lethal submission artist, while Pettis has done his best work standing up. So imagine fans’ delight when Pettis opened the fight by shrugging off takedown attempts and smashing Oliveira with a series of sickening body kicks.
In the second round however, Pettis was slowing down. Never a defensive wizard, he was nonetheless getting caught by kicks and body punches that were beneath his level. Oliveira was now getting him to the ground, forcing Pettis primarily on defense and costing him the round. If momentum held, the ex-champion was going to lose a decision and extend his losing streak to four.
But a three fight losing streak Anthony Pettis is still Anthony Pettis damnit, and so he was inclined to do things like slap on a guillotine during the final scramble.
It was nice to see that the ex-champion still had grit, even after a tough weight cut. Furthermore he had submitted the submission artist, illustrating the same concept he did against Henderson; his athleticism and opportunism was worth far more than a formal grappling pedigree.
It legitimizes the match up between Pettis and Holloway as one between (relative) equals. If Holloway takes the interim title, we can say it was against a dangerous Anthony Pettis who was returning to form. If Pettis wins, he won’t be champion but we can agree that a win over Max Holloway catapults him to the top of the pile at 145 lbs.
So if you’re a casual fan who was disappointed to see the big rematch get scrapped, I get it. But take it from me that the replacement fight is, from an analytical standpoint, way more fun. Sure Anthony Johnson could have spun Daniel Cormier’s jaw like a Frisbee, but Pettis and Holloway have the potential to shatter ribs and skull alike.
Don’t let the hype machine of the UFC tell you who’s exciting and who’s not. Because one of the best fights of the year may have just dropped into our laps.