Choosing to Fight
Even for a veteran, the UFC is a whole different stage
By Jeremy Burgard
Milwaukee's very own Anthony “Showtime” Pettis has emerged as 2010's breakthrough fighter of the year according to Sherdog.com. Along with this hype came the #1 contender spot for the UFC's lightweight division. Unfortunately for Pettis, his title bout was delayed when champ Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard fought to a draw at UFC 125.
This puts Pettis in the uncomfortable position of choosing to wait a minimum of eight months for a title fight, or take on another contender. Although a date has yet to be set, Pettis has agreed to take on Clay Guida. Guida is a tough fighter, and a win over him will prove to the doubters that Pettis really deserves a title shot. In taking this fight, Pettis made the right decision.
To someone like Pettis, taking this fight was probably a no-brainer. Ever since his professional debut in 2007, Pettis has never gone more than 6 months without getting in the cage. Now is not the time for him to break this streak. When going into the most important – not to mention most difficult – fight of his career, the last thing a fighter should do is break routine.
Pettis also knows that his fanbase has grown substantially in the last six months. Between his appearance on MTV's “World of Jenks,” to his WEC title win, and capped off by the famous “showtime kick” that went viral on the internet and locked a number two spot on SportsCenter's top ten, Pettis' hype has exploded. He has earned so much attention in the past 6 months that the city of Milwaukee even proclaimed January 13th as Anthony Pettis day. And the best way to lose all of that hype is to sit on the bench gathering dust for nearly a year. Pettis and his management know that they have to keep the bandwagon moving or else people will start jumping off.
Unfortunately, the other way fighters often lose hype is by losing a fight. And fighting against another top contender like Guida, losing is an undeniable possibility. And not only is Guida tough, but this fight will be Pettis' UFC debut. Even for a veteran like Pettis, the UFC is a whole different stage. It's like a second-string quarterback coming in to start a game. Yeah, he's used to the big stage, and is capable of hanging in there, but his nerves will still be on edge – just ask Antonio McKee. But this makes fighting Guida an even better decision.
If a fighter's first fight in the UFC is tough, then which would be tougher, debuting against Clay Guida for a #1 contender spot, or debuting against the lightweight champ for the title? Sure, a loss against Guida would potentially set Pettis back more than a loss against the champ would, but fighting Guida is also the safer choice. With a win, he not only gets the title shot, but he also got his debut out of the way, and will likely feel more comfortable fighting on the biggest stage MMA has to offer.
Choosing to fight Guida rather than wait also helps Pettis avoid the dreaded “ring rust.” While some fighters like Brock Lesnar have overcome months of inactivity and won their next fight, most are not as lucky. A fairly comprehensive study shows that about nine out of ten fighters with ring rust lose their next fight. With a minimum layoff of eight months, Pettis would be debuting in the UFC, fighting the best they had to offer, and looking to be the one out of ten fighters to overcome ring rust. Pettis is a good fighter for certain, but taking a warm-up fight against Guida is looking even more appealing.
Pettis is looking to validate himself as a top-tier fighter. One of his biggest criticisms when he was guaranteed a title shot was that he wasn't worthy to leapfrog over some of the UFC's top fighters for a shot at the belt. This fight against Guida should help to find where the former WEC lightweights stand in the UFC's lightweight division. The WEC was always seen as the minor leagues to the UFC's major league. With the UFC cannibalizing the WEC's roster, everyone will get a chance to see what the WEC guys can really do, and all eyes will be on Pettis.
This fight is certainly the biggest fight of Pettis' career. Not only does a win guarantee a title shot, but it also makes sure Pettis is in the right mind set for his title shot – no octagon jitters, no ring rust, and validation that he belongs in there with the UFC's best. A loss would be devastating to Pettis, but taking this fight against Guida was the only reasonable decision.