UFC 144 breakdown: Pettis vs. Lauzon

Anthony Pettis (14-2) vs. Joe Lauzon (21-6)

The last reigning WEC lightweight champion has yet to realize his full potential in the UFC, but that could be poised to change as the style of his opponent Saturday night will translate into a thrilling offering to kick off the pay-per-view card.

Pettis, 25, one of the lightweight division’s brightest prospects, is coming off a split-decision win over Jeremy Stephens in his sophomore UFC outing this past October.

The Duke Roufus-trained kickboxing specialist, also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, rebounded from a frustrating performance against Clay Guida in his UFC debut last June, a bout he lost by unanimous decision.

Prior to entering the UFC, Pettis was on a tear, finishing quality foes like Danny Castillo and Shane Roller before outpointing UFC 144 headliner and current No. 1 contender Benson Henderson to capture the WEC lightweight title.

A third-degree taekwondo black belt, Pettis possesses one of the most exciting styles in the sport as he utilizes an array of unique kicks, which he integrates perfectly with his slick submission skills.

Wrestling remains Pettis’ biggest weakness, but Lauzon is unlikely to exploit that area of his game.

Lauzon, 27, shocked oddsmakers with a scintillating first-round submission win over Melvin Guillard this past October. Lauzon has been unable to assemble a consistent winning streak in the UFC, which has kept him out of title contention.

With career wins over Guillard, Stephens and Jens Pulver, the Boston native is hoping that a hat trick of victories will propel him into the top 10. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt is always developing his game with primary areas of focus being his conditioning and striking.

Both fighters are stellar submission practitioners, but Pettis is a more dangerous striker with a wider range of tools at his disposal. He will frustrate Lauzon with his kicks and unpredictability, working his body effectively as the fight progresses. Lauzon has what it takes to survive, but he will need to rely heavily on his submissions to pull off the upset.

Verdict: Pettis via decision