There’s a new king in the 155-pound division and his name is Anthony Pettis.
But with Pettis’ post-fight proclamation that he wants to battle featherweight patriarch Jose Aldo in a champion-versus-champion superfight, two divisions could now be stuck in limbo.
The New Lightweight Title Picture
Pettis showed the world there’s more to his highlight-reel than just blistering kicks.
The 26-year-old Milwaukee native enjoyed a triumphant homecoming, surviving an early onslaught of persistent takedown attempts from now-former champion Benson Henderson before ultimately coaxing the tapout with a slick armbar off his back.
The Duke Roufus-trained striking specialist wasted little time calling out the Brazilian wrecking machine Aldo, so the long list of contenders at 145 and 155 pounds could be playing the waiting game.
Although Pettis now has the coveted gold around his waist, he suffered a knee injury that could keep him sidelined for the better part of a year. This would be the worst possible scenario for the organization, but the severity of his injury still needs to be determined.
If Pettis opts to hang around at 155 pounds, it’s a no-brainer that 29-year-old Canadian T.J. Grant has earned the next crack at the title.
However, a potential matchup with Aldo has fans salivating. If Pettis goes the latter route, the UFC will likely appease him with the fight he wants. Still, numerous details need to be hatched out, including the assessment of Pettis’ injury and the optimal weight division to stage the fight.
As for Henderson, UFC president Dana White has already stated that he won’t be getting an immediate rematch despite a string of three consecutive title defenses and a reign of 553 days as champion.
Former Strikeforce titleholder Josh Thomson made his splash into the top 10 with a vicious beatdown of Nate Diaz this past April. Thomson has been outspoken in the past when it comes to criticizing his former WEC and UFC counterparts, so a showdown against the rebounding Henderson would present him with an opportunity to join the forefront of contenders.
In other notable lightweight developments, Gleison Tibau won his 20th UFC contest on Saturday night, outpointing former WEC champion Jamie Varner in a competitive three-round affair.
The 30-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has struggled with consistency during his Octagon tenure, but his longevity in the promotion is certainly admirable. Tibau could make it three in a row with another victory, so a bout with 29-year-old Denver native Matt Wiman would make sense at this stage. They’ve both stuck around since 2006 with neither fighter ever accumulating a run worthy of a title shot. Tibau is getting closer, but he needs a decisive finish if he wants to make a statement.
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Arizona Combat Sports product Varner turned in a valiant losing effort. He still hasn’t broke out of the top 20, so a competitive pairing could see him face off against Canadian grappling ace Mark Bocek, who was recently forced to withdraw from a planned UFC 165 tilt against Michel Prazeres due to injury.
Finally, Al Iaquinta likely halted the UFC run of Ryan Couture with a dominant unanimous decision on the prelims. The Serra-Longo Fight Team member showed no signs of ring rust after an extended layoff. A finalist on the 15th season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Iaquinta could boost his stock by defeating another former "TUF" finalist in Ramsey Nijem, who looks to snap a two-fight skid against Myles Jury and James Vick.
Barnett Shakes Up Heavyweight Division
It took 4,180 days, but 35-year-old former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett finally made his return this past Saturday, bludgeoning Frank Mir with a potent clinch assault to set up a fight-ending knee at the 1:56 mark of the opening period.
Barnett may be old-fashioned, but he’s a welcome addition to the modern heavyweight class. Still a few wins away from a title shot, Barnett should get a fight with 31-year-old Hawaiian powerhouse Travis Browne, who knocked out Alistair Overeem several weeks ago.
Grappling guru Fabricio Werdum is likely receiving the first crack at the winner of an upcoming heavyweight title rematch between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, but the winner of a Barnett-Browne fight wouldn’t fall far behind in the pecking order.
At a career crossroads, the 34-year-old Mir is on the first three-fight losing streak of his mixed martial arts journey. Many pundits have called for a fight against Overeem, who lost his last two outings, but it’s a lose-lose for two top heavyweights. In today’s landscape, winning is everything, so the UFC would be better off giving them both rebound fights before matching them up against each other.
Ben Rothwell short-circuited Brandon Vera in their heavyweight showcase on the main card before he called out Browne. In all fairness, Rothwell doesn’t quite deserve a top five opponent just yet, but a fight with the rebounding Mir would be an optimal pairing. A fourth consecutive loss for Mir will have him seriously contemplating retirement, while another crushing conquest for Rothwell could set him up with fights against other top 10 adversaries.
Speaking of Vera, the 35-year-old Filipino muay thai specialist had his moments against Rothwell, effectively using lateral movement and quick combinations to score points. Vera weighed in at 241 pounds, so he clearly has the size to hold his own at heavyweight. A rebound fight against fellow striker Pat Barry would be a kickboxing fan’s delight.
Featherweight Contenders Knocking On Door
Arguably the most competitive division in the sport, the featherweights continued to impress on Saturday night, as Chad Mendes utilized his athleticism and superior striking before wiping out Clay Guida by third-round TKO, while Dustin Poirier turned in a dynamic performance in a back-and-forth war with Erik Koch, prevailing by unanimous decision.
Mendes is still ranked No. 1 at 145 pounds behind Aldo, but he already lost to the champion in convincing fashion. Four knockouts later and Mendes is making waves, but a rematch for the title could be premature.
Fellow contender Ricardo Lamas has been waiting in the wings for his eventual opportunity, but he likely won’t be getting it any time soon, particularly if a potential superfight between Aldo and Pettis comes to fruition.
Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson should face off next, while Mendes should take on Lamas. By matching up the division’s elite contenders, the UFC can make some sense of who actually deserves the next shot.
Guida, who suffered his first knockout loss in 44 fights, is not quite the fan favorite he once was, but he remains one of the most durable fighters on the roster. Fellow featherweight contender Dennis Siver has followed Guida around for years, as they were both contenders at lightweight before dropping to 145 pounds. The 34-year-old German veteran would make for an intriguing rebound opponent for "The Carpenter."
The 24-year-old Poirier is an all-action competitor with the heart and durability to match. His win over Koch was impressive, but he’ll need to build up a streak to break through the pack of contenders. Darren Elkins earned the grueling nod over Hatsu Hioki at UFC Fight Night last Wednesday, so a matchup between the two could be in the cards.
Despite coming out on the losing end, Koch turned in a strong showing, threatening with submissions off his back and surviving everything Poirier threw at him. Brazilian submission magician Rani Yahya is on a three-fight tear and he could present Koch with some stylistic threats, so these two should get it on next.
Other Fights to Make:
Tim Elliott vs. John Moraga – Elliott is now on a two-fight winning streak since dropping a decision to John Dodson in his May 2012 promotional debut. Elliott brutalized Louis Gaudinot, outlanding him 270 to 41, en route to a clear-cut decision. Elliott, who is steadily climbing the flyweight ranks, would benefit from fighting a former title challenger in Moraga, who suffered a fifth-round submission loss to champion Demetrious Johnson this past July.
Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Seth Baczynski – In a "Fight of the Night" performance worth $50,000, Lim starched once-beaten German prospect Pascal Krauss with a searing combination, stopping him 3:58 into the opening round. Lim is now 2-0 under the UFC’s bright lights, but stiffer competition awaits. Baczynski was on a six-fight winning streak before successive setbacks against Mike Pierce and Brian Melancon. A win over "The Polish Pistola" will fast track Lim’s ascent in the 170-pound division.
Chico Camus vs. Yaotzin Meza – It took plenty of resilience, but Camus notched a hard-fought decision over unheralded South Korean scrapper Kyung Ho Kang. The Roufusport product needs to work his way up the ladder slowly, and a meeting with MMA Lab disciple Yaotzin Meza would make sense for his next appearance.
Soa Palelei vs. Shane del Rosario – It was sloppy. It was ugly. But in the end, the 35-year-old Australian behemoth Palelei stopped overmatched Ukrainian prospect Nikita Krylov in the third round. Even with the win, Palelei should be grateful if he gets another opportunity in the Octagon. He’s unlikely to pose any threats to the upper echelon of competition, so it could be a strong showcase fight for a kickboxer like del Rosario, who has yet to register his first UFC win.
Magnus Cedenblad vs. Dylan Andrews – You could argue it’s a modest step down in competition for the Swedish sensation, but Cedenblad made his intentions clear after his first-round submission victory over Jared Hamman. The 31-year-old Swede wants to avenge his countryman Papy Abedi’s recent loss to the "TUF 17" semifinalist, so let’s make it happen.