Two of the most exciting lightweights in the UFC will clash next Saturday night (February 26, 2012) as bonus hog Joe Lauzon takes on former WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis on the UFC 144 main card in Saitama, Japan.
Lauzon is on a modest two fight winning streak, but that includes a huge upset victory over Melvin Guillard at UFC 136 in which Guillard was potentially one win away from a title shot. The former cast member of The Ultimate Fighter season five always puts on a show, as evidenced by his eight UFC fight night bonuses. He'll be looking to win his seventh straight next Saturday night.
Anthony Pettis has a reputation for being one of the most unpredictable and interesting lightweights on the planet. We could talk about his "Showtime Kick," which set the MMA world on fire at the end of 2010. After missing out on a title shot last year, he's back on the winning track and hoping to potentially regain his number one contender status. He'll have to get through Lauzon first, however.
Will Lauzon earn a win bonus on top of a fight night bonus? Can Pettis put on a show and become a potential title challenger with a big win? What's the key to victory for both men next Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 21-6 overall, 7-3 in the UFC
How he got here: Joe Lauzon has faced some seriously stiff competition in his seven and a half year MMA career. The native Bostonian competed primarily on the east coast circuit early in his career, earning a victory over eventual WEC champ Mike Brown but coming up short to the likes of Jorge Masvidal, Ivan Menjivar and Raphael Assuncao.
Lauzon won three fights in one night on April 1, 2006 to punch his ticket to the UFC where he was expected to be thrown to the wolves against former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver. Instead, he clipped Pulver, knocking "Lil Evil" out in just 47 seconds in one of the biggest upsets of that year.
Despite his incredible showing, Lauzon would instead take a spot on season five of The Ultimate Fighter, where "J-Lau" was the favorite to win the show. Instead, he would be upset by eventual finalist Manny Gamburyan in the semifinals.
Since the show, it has been feast or famine for Lauzon. He's won seven fights in the promotion and has scored three losses against three of the division's best in Sam Stout, Kenny Florian and George Sotiropoulos. Lauzon has turned into a bonus hog in his recent fights, taking home "Fight of the Night" in all of his three Octagon losses and winning "Submission of the Night" in his four most recent victories.
He's coming off the biggest victory of his career, a huge upset against Melvin Guillard at UFC 136 in which he stunned "The Young Assassin" with a left hand and then choked him out in less than a minute. He's hoping to enter title contention if he can get past former WEC champion and number one contender Anthony Pettis next Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Lauzon really hunts for submissions in his fights. He's got a very aggressive guard with sweeps and attacks of the arm but he's also got some competent striking, something he showcased against both Jens Pulver in his UFC debut and in his most recent fights against Kurt Warburton and Melvin Guillard in which he stunned his opponents on the feet before pouncing with submissions on the ground.
Lauzon would be unwise to stand at a distance with Pettis though, as he's going to be dealing with a proficient puncher and an even better kicker. His key to victory is to do what he always does and really get in "Showtime's" face with aggressive strikes, either hoping to hurt the Milwaukee-native standing or get in close enough to score a takedown and work from top control.
If Lauzon does anything in the stand-up, he needs to get inside. He can't afford to give Pettis the proper range to blast him with his wide array of kicking attacks.
Record: 14-2 overall, 1-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Anthony got his start in the Gladiator Fighting Series, going 8-0 on the Wisconsin local circuit with seven of those wins coming by way of first round stoppage. Pettis would earn a trip to the WEC and he would debut with a triangle choke submission over Mike Campbell in June of 2009.
After suffering a split decision setback to Bart Palaszewski, "Showtime" would kick into high gear with three consecutive stoppage performances against the likes of Danny Castillo, Shane Roller and Alex Karalexis. His career defining fight would be his title shot against then-WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson in the final World Extreme Cagefighting event ever, WEC 53.
With the WEC title (and a shot at UFC gold) on the line, Pettis and Henderson put on a performance for the ages and you all should know how it ended by now. Final minute of the fight and "Showtime" pulls off the craziest kick in MMA history to score a near fight-ending knockdown that sealed the victory for the youngster.
Pettis chose to forgo his UFC title shot and, rather than wait, he accepted a bout with Clay Guida, but couldn't handle "The Carpenter's" wrestling skills and would lose a decision. He showcased offensive wrestling skills of his own in his last fight against Jeremy Stephens, winning another close decision. Now back on track, a victory over Joe Lauzon next Saturday night would put him right back into the mix.
How he gets it done: What makes Pettis so fun to watch is his willingness to think outside the box and try crazy new things. It's not just the "Showtime kick" either. Pettis has been willing to throw anything from crazy capoeira kicks to insane cage somersault sweeps from mount. That's part of what makes him great, but can also be a hindrance. At times, he's looked to do something crazy rather than to actually be effective and win..
Look for Pettis to really work his kicking game. Only fellow UFC lightweights John Makdessi or Edson Barboza rival"Showtime" in flashy kicks. He's got very powerful leg, body and head kicks if he's allowed to get in the proper range. With Lauzon not having much of a kicking game at all, this could make a huge difference in the fight.
Pettis also rivals Lauzon on the ground as he's very active with submissions, sweep attempts and guard passes. If anyone takes this fight to the canvas, it might just be Pettis. He showcased some improved offensive wrestling in his last fight with Jeremy Stephens and he might utilize it again to try and stifle Lauzon.
Conditioning could be at play here. Lauzon can last all three rounds fine if he paces himself, but he tends to really push the pace and expend a ton of energy early in his fights. If Pettis can be patient and not let himself get drawn into a wild exchange in the first few minutes, he could take over in the second and third round.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is the first round. That's where Joe Lauzon is the most dangerous, when he comes out guns blazing with both his striking and ground attack. He's likely going to be expending a ton of energy early so Pettis has to be vigilant and prepared for this. If he gets overwhelmed early, he'll only have himself to blame. Expect Pettis to fight defensively early on, perhaps just waiting long enough until Lauzon tires himself out and then he'll strike back hard.
Depending on how the first round goes, the rest of the fight should be very simple to foresee
Bottom Line: The possibility for this fight being boring is almost nonexistent. Joe Lauzon has won a ridiculous eight fight night bonuses in his UFC career thus far, out of 11 career UFC fights (and I don't think the bonuses existed back when he KO'd Pulver). He's also won a bonus a ridiculous six times in a row. Pettis was a bonus-hound as well in the WEC, winning the triple crown of Knockout, Submission and Fight of the Night while there. As long as Lauzon pushes a pace and Pettis is forced to keep up with him and go toe-to-toe, this is going to be one of the best fights of the entire card. Both men are capable of tremendous excitement and this fight has serious potential. The only cause for concern is the Anthony Pettis that showed up to fight Jeremy Stephens, as he seemed more intent on winning than being entertaining. He might simply try to smother Lauzon and stifle him, although that's a very slim possibility as I doubt Lauzon would let him do that. Get your popcorn ready for this one.
Who will come out on top at UFC 144? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!