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Anthony Pettis proved at UFC Nashville it’s still ‘Showtime’

If you thought the Anthony Pettis show was over long ago, think again.

With his back literally up against the fence, Anthony Pettis proved Saturday he’s still got it — and perhaps has found a new life at 170 pounds.

Most counted “Showtime” out of his UFC Nashville main-event bout against Stephen Thompson. He was moving up to welterweight for the first time against a bigger, just-as-dangerous man in Thompson. And most believed Pettis’ best days were behind him.

Pettis’ move to welterweight was rather unexpected, and at first glance, perhaps bizarre and even unnecessary. Some looked at it as Pettis running out of ideas, trying to get back the consistency he boasted several years ago, but ultimately an attempt destined to fail.

If you go back a few years, Pettis was on his way to being one of the pound-for-pound greats — and one of the promotion’s biggest stars — as UFC lightweight champion. The flashy and dangerous Pettis had charisma. He had glitz and glam. And more importantly, he had the hardware to back it up. He was the man to beat at 155 pounds.

But Pettis ran into Rafael dos Anjos in 2015, and has arguably never been the same since. He lost twice more, and many thought the Pettis puzzle had finally been solved for good.

The story of Pettis’ post-title career has been mixed results and inconsistency. Between a drop to featherweight and a return to lightweight, the Roufusport fighter has struggled to put it all together. He’s won some and he’s lost some. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but fans have had to accept the fact that Pettis will never be at the very top again.

You know, unless vintage Showtime suddenly came out from hiding.

Fans were startled when it was announced Pettis would be moving up to welterweight and fighting Thompson. It was intriguing on paper, but did it make sense? Would it be competitive? After all, Thompson is one of the very best at 170 pounds — despite his razor-thin loss to Darren Till last year — and Pettis is just a blown up lightweight, right?

... Right?

Pettis had something else in mind. And maybe he knew something we didn’t.

Pettis turned the MMA world on its axis Saturday night. He was about to be down two rounds to Thompson when he landed a superman punch with his back to the fence, knocking “Wonderboy” out cold. It’s only April, but I can say with certainty that we will at least mention the victory when we discuss the best knockouts of the year in December.

While a few people on Twitter may claim they thought Pettis would win, no one saw the former champ handing Thompson the first stoppage loss of his career in such brutal fashion.

It is reasonable to think that the weight cut — or lack thereof — is what improved Pettis’ performance on Saturday. Cutting 15 pounds less certainly couldn’t have hurt his chances in the new division. But is that the only factor that played in favor of Pettis? Your guess is as good as mine.

Some fighters get to a point in their careers in which they just take fun fights, ones that are meaningless when it comes to title implications. A final hurrah, a chance to make a little extra cash before riding off into the sunset and moving on with their lives.

I’ll be the first to admit that’s exactly what I thought this was for Pettis. But he proved against Thompson that he didn’t move to welterweight to play games.

In a way, Pettis went from overrated to underrated. When he was the champ, was he as good as some were making him out to be? Maybe not. Dos Anjos, followed by Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza, showed that. But now that he has had an up-and-down last few years, fans have doubted Pettis to the point that expectations are lower than they should be.

After this win, there’s no more counting Pettis out. The Pettis we saw in Nashville was prime Pettis — the man that landed the Showtime kick off the cage on Benson Henderson in WEC, that stopped Donald Cerrone with a body kick, that submitted Henderson and Gilbert Melendez in UFC title fights. This was not the Pettis who has alternated wins and losses since losing the UFC belt.

Can Pettis make a second title run, this time in the UFC welterweight division? I don’t know. Historically, the Milwaukee native has struggled against grapplers, and unfortunately for him, they dominate the top of the 170-pound division right now. Does Pettis beat the Kamaru Usmans and the Colby Covingtons of the weight class? I can’t say so with certainty.

But what I can say with certainty is that Pettis is not done. Far from it. The Pettis who took out Thompson in Music City is a dangerous, motivated man, one who has a lot more left in the tank than we thought.

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