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UFC 185 preview: Despite recent dominance, onus remains on Anthony Pettis to establish greatness

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If Jon Jones got knocked on his ass at UFC 187, or moved up to heavyweight and got smashed by Cain Velasquez, he would still be considered the greatest light heavyweight champion of all time, and perhaps one of the deadliest mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in history.

That's the difference between "great" and "greatness."

It's why Fedor Emelianenko is still revered as a god among men, despite looking ... well, like a mere mortal during a horrific string of losses under the Strikeforce banner. The same can be said for legends like Matt Hughes and his successor, Georges St. Pierre.

"Great" is now. "Greatness" is forever.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight kingpin Anthony Pettis is somewhere in between. "Showtime" got off to a rocky start inside the Octagon, which cooled off some of his hype from WEC, falling to Clay Guida in a one-sided mugging.

Then came a close split-decision victory over Jeremy Stephens.

What follows is a sensational four-fight run, capped off with highlight-reel finishes over the top of the food chain. Go to any top-10 list in MMA and you're sure to find Donald Cerrone, Ben Henderson, and Gilbert Melendez in or around the top five.

Pettis made them look like chumps.

But the Duke Roufus-trained striker carries an asterisk next to that incredible run, thanks to a pair of untimely injuries. His perceived frailty, at least for now, will continue to raise concerns over his durability as he gears up for his second title defense this weekend in Dallas, Texas.

Where Rafael dos Anjos, a fighter who may not answer any lingering questions, awaits.

The Brazilian is a formidable test, with one-punch knockout power and the grappling chops to submit anyone at 155 pounds. But longtime fans are still waiting for Pettis to exorcise those "Carpenter" demons, a feat that may not be accomplished until Khabib Nurmagomedov is laid to rest.

Barring injury, that's likely one fight away for both competitors.

Until then, "Showtime" will have to play fast and loose against his opponent in "The Lone Star State," which judging by the betting line, shouldn't be a problem. In order to strip the strap from the Milwaukee native, Dos Anjos will have to overcome disadvantages in speed and timing, among other things.

All while trying to stay conscious.

I'm not sure winning -- even spectacularly -- will tell us anything we didn't already know about Pettis. He's a great fighter with a track record of doing great things once the cage door closes. But whether he's on track to become the best ever, or just another flash in the pan, remains to be seen.

I have to admit, I like his chances.

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