Two of the most creative strikers in MMA will collide as Stephen Thompson welcomes Anthony Pettis to the welterweight division at UFC Nashville.
Stephen Thompson has used his karate attack to shut-down several elite opponents and become one of the premiere strikers in the world of MMA. Anthony Pettis introduced the “Showtime” kick to the masses and has inspired dozens of knockoffs since then. Only one of these world-class strikers will be victorious in the main event of UFC Nashville.
He only needed 1️⃣ round!
— UFC (@ufc) March 21, 2019
It is a testament to the competitiveness of the welterweight division that Stephen Thompson has only lost once since coming up short for the title and is not even on the radar in the title picture. His abilities and creativity in today’s game are rivaled perhaps only by Israel Adesanya and his first championship campaign had many hailing him as the next big thing in the division. Consider that en route to his title shot he defeated names like current middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, current Bellator champion Rory MacDonald, and former champion Johny Hendricks.
After being sidelined with an injury from his match-up with top prospect Darren Till, the fight with Pettis is his first in many months. He is still ranked fourth in the division, but a new wave of contenders is threatening to knock him completely out of the picture. Colby Covington’s bravado has seemingly secured him the next shot at the title, Santiago Ponzinibbio rides a seven-fight win streak and new signee Ben Askren has already injected himself into the conversation. With several contenders making moves, Thompson is in a precarious spot. A loss would threaten to knock him well out of the picture for the foreseeable future. However, the shake-up in the championship picture means he could find himself back in a title fight in the next year assuming he can put together another victory after Saturday.
Former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis has been in impressive performances in recent years, even if his win/loss record doesn’t reflect it. Last year’s loss to Tony Ferguson was considered one of the best fights of the year and many felt that he had returned to form in his fight with Michael Chiesa before that. His loss to top contender Dustin Poirier was another in which he showed his resilience even in a losing effort. Most tellingly, the UFC doesn’t seem to be deterred in their faith in Pettis considering that he continues to get booked in high-profile fights.
9️⃣ years later and we still can't believe it!
— UFC (@ufc) March 21, 2019
After his last fight, Pettis discussed the idea of moving up to welterweight as he evaluated where he stood in the current lightweight division and the hold-ups that it is currently experiencing. The match-up with Thompson came together after “Wonderboy” responded on social media and garnered attention quickly with the fans. The reason is easy enough to understand, the matchup pits two of the most stylistically creative strikers in MMA together in a bout that figures to challenge both men to out-do the other.
Thompson will carry the advantage of being the larger athlete going into the bout and that could well make the difference. Pettis has previously made the cut to featherweight, and while he likely won’t cut much for Saturday, he figures to give up a significant amount of strength in the fight.
“Wonderboy” is a very patient counter-striker who is among the best in the world at keeping opponents at length and picking them apart with pinpoint shots. Pettis by comparison is accurate but more aggressive and will attempt to go for more unorthodox strikes if presented the opportunity.
Thompson should look to use his height and reach to keep Pettis at the end of a hard jab or a side-kick. It is expected that he will be the one doing more damage with each shot and that could mean that Pettis gets flustered faster and leaves himself more open as he takes risks to close the deficit. For a striker as technically skilled as Thompson, those opportunities could well give him the window to land a fight-ending blow.
Pettis, for all his brilliance, has rarely defeated opponents with an unorthodox shot. For this match-up, he should look to use leg-kicks to hamper the mobility of Thompson and try to work behind a jab to close the distance. Pettis’ experience should grant him the capabilities to defend counters from Thompson, but it will require a disciplined and measured attack that takes them into the later rounds. Further, Pettis has proven himself to have a highly underrated submission game and taking the fight to the mat is not out of the question.
The winner of this fight likely injects themselves into the top five of the title picture and sets themselves up for a marquee bout in their next outing. Santiago Ponzinibbio and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos are two names that make sense as Colby Covington is likely locked into a title shot. Tyron Woodley could also be an option for Anthony Pettis should he win considering Stephen Thompson already faced Woodley twice.