Anthony Pettis rocks Joe Lauzon with a kickat UFC 144 on Feb. 25, 2012 in Saitama, Japan. Image via Esther Lin of MMA Fighting
Some would say Anthony Pettis has been robbed twice. He was "promised" a UFC lightweight title shot when he defeated Ben Henderson for the WEC lightweight title in the last fight World Extreme Cagefighting ever promoted. Unfortunately for him, he watched as Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard went to a draw at UFC 125, and a third bout between the two was necessary. Since then he has rebounded from a loss to Clay Guida by beating Jeremy Stephens, and he followed that up with a spectacular head-kick knockout of Joe Lauzon at UFC 144. When Dana White was asked after UFC 144 if Pettis would get his title shot, his answer was short, but typically vague:
"Probably. But we'll see what happens."
"We'll see what happens" turned out to be a Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson rematch. I won't argue the merits of that decision here, though I do believe that the majority of fans aren't interested in seeing that again. This post is about what the UFC should do with Showtime now that he has been shut out of the title picture once again. To me, there's only one option - Gray Maynard. And here's why.
1. Pettis needs a signature win in the UFC. Wins over Jeremy Stephens and Joe Lauzon are good, but not good enough to give him the cred he needs to fight for a title. Sure, he holds a win over the champion, and did it in style. But like it or not, it was in another organization that only a fraction of UFC fans watched. Henderson earned his shot with three UFC wins, two over top-ten fighters. If Pettis beats Maynard, there's no denying him the shot.
2. Maynard deserves a top opponent for his comeback fight. Other than Clay Guida, there is no one else worthy of a fight with Gray. Maynard is still one of the best lightweights in the world, and has taken his training to another level since the Edgar loss. He has worked with Jose Aldo in Brazil, spent time at American Kickboxing Academy, and has taken a page out of B.J. Penn's book by working with Marv and Gary Marinovich on his conditioning. Maynard is still right there, and could easily earn another title shot if Henderson retains against Edgar and he can beat Pettis.
3. Showtime's reputation will be greatly enhanced with a win over a wrestler. Yes, he beat Ben Henderson in the WEC. But he was completely grounded by Clay Guida in his UFC debut, and UFC fans have short memories. A win over an excellent wrestler like Maynard would go a long way towards erasing the belief that Pettis can't hang with wrestlers in the big leagues.
4. It's the most logical fight to make.The only thing that comes close is Guida/Maynard, and that leaves Pettis out of the top-tier once again. Guida can fight Joe Lauzon or Gleison Tibau next. Maybe even Melvin Guillard, now that he's left Jackson's.
5. The booking should generate some trash talk. Maynard is known as a guy who is brutally honest when he does interviews, and he took Pettis to town in an interview last year. Pettis undoubtedly feels slighted by the fact that Edgar got a rematch, and has been viewed by some as a tad cocky. I think they'll have a few things to say about each other, which will help sell the bout.
The winner of Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller at UFC on Fox 3 will likely meet the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson 2. That's fine. But there's nothing wrong with booking this fight as well. It wouldn't happen until the summer, and the bout can be promoted as a number one contender's bout if things play out the right way. It's the best way to go. Joe Silva - let's do this.