Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight titleholder Anthony Pettis will make the second defense of his belt against No. 1 contender Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of the UFC 185 pay-per-view (PPV), which takes place tonight (Mar. 14, 2015) inside the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
"Showtime" is one-half of what is sure to be an entertaining marquee headliner with the bruising Brazilian. Dos Anjos has been on a tear of late, racking up huge wins over lightweight contenders such as Nate Diaz and Benson Henderson. Preceding the pair's main event melee is another title fight between new women's strawweight champion Carla Esparza and undefeated challenger Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The 28-year-old Pettis is 20 fights into an eight-year mixed martial arts (MMA) career and will face his toughest foe yet on Saturday night.
Pettis, a Wisconsin native, began his career fighting on the local circuit. On his 20th birthday, he entered the ring for the first time and quickly started making a name for himself. The man we would later call "Showtime" stopped Tom Ersparmer, Lonny Amdahl (injury) and Michael Skinner in his first three professional fights.
Pettis only needed 72 seconds to dispatch his first three opponents. Then just an MMA up-and-comer, Pettis seemed destined for greatness by routing other fighters. They didn't have the speed -- let alone the technical skills that years training in Taekwondo, boxing, Capoeira, kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu give you -- to keep pace with the Roufusport fighter.
Throughout the first two years of his MMA tenure, Duke Roufus' disciple kicked, kneed, punched and elbowed his way to a 155-pound title shot in the Gladiators Fighting Series (GFS) promotion. His blistering head kick knockout of Mike Lambrecht marked his fifth straight, first-round finish and put him squarely in position to capture gold.
In June 2008, Pettis defeated Sherron Leggett by split decision in a gutsy showing to nab his first title. Showtime's back was against the wall -- and the mat -- for the majority of their 15-minute tangle. However, a late offensive rally by Pettis, where he turned the tables on the wrestler, likely earned him the championship.
Pettis would go on to defend his belt only once; a 72-second submission (punches) victory over Jay Ellis. He also made the trek up to 170 pounds in his final GFS appearance, before moving onto World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), taking out Gabe Walbridge in just under a minute.
Pettis' WEC reign consisted of six fights and several finishes. Where he was known for his power and technique back in his local days, Showtime showed he was more than capable of handling himself in precarious situations.
Fighters had begun to do their homework on Pettis, who established himself as a brilliant stand-up combatant. Most were beginning to jab their way into striking range, change levels and shoot for takedowns on the superb striker.
Roller went for one too many takedowns against Pettis in their back-and-forth August 2010 battle, and ended up tapping out to a triangle choke from the future UFC champion.
His fourth victory in five opportunities propelled him into what would be a career-defining, WEC lightweight title fight against the champ Henderson. "Smooth" was heading into the second defense of his title, and was an equally talented grappler.
From the opening bell, the challenger made it known he was not going to be an easy out. Pettis likely lost the initial round due to pressure by Henderson. In the following two rounds, Pettis started to find his rhythm and dictated more of the action, landing nice kicks, counter punches and a takedown. Henderson stormed back in the fourth and nearly finished the fight with a rear-naked choke.
What happened next is history.
Pettis, perhaps fearing the wrath of the judges, went for a highly-unorthodox kick off of the cage, which landed flush on the chin of Bendo. The maneuver, aptly named "The Showtime Kick", became an iconic moment in the history of the WEC. It was true to the warrior that pulled the trigger on it, who had been through much adversity just to get to the pinnacle of his sport.
Pettis went home a champion for the second time in his budding MMA career on that December 2010 night. However, he was never able to defend the title due to the UFC absorbing the WEC and all of its fighters' contracts.
His Octagon career to this point has been anything but easy. Frankie Edgar was busy ruling the 155-pound landscape at the time of Pettis' debut, and Clay Guida had other plans for the former WEC titleholder.
Injuries also had a large part in altering Pettis' trajectory towards a UFC title. Shoulder surgery kept him sidelined for much of 2012, and a bout with Staph infection only delayed his efforts to return to the Octagon after a 2-1 start.
Pettis was eventually cleared to resume training and made quick work of fellow WEC veteran Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 6 in January 2013. The win earned him another chance to dethrone Henderson, who was the lightweight champ at the time.
Seven months later, a rematch between "Bendo" and "Showtime" took place, with the latter taking home the title once again after he pulled off a dazzling, first-round armbar submission. In addition to a $50,000 performance bonus, Pettis' was also awarded 2013 Submission of the Year for his efforts.
The injury bug continued to bite Pettis and kept him from defending his title for several months. A coaching gig opposite former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 20 kept him out of the Octagon for five more months.
While filming TUF, Pettis had to hear from fighters about how he was holding up the entire lightweight division due to his recovery and schedule. Though he admitted the time away from fighting "felt good", he was clamoring to get back in the cage.
The champ made his first title defense at UFC 181 in December against "El Nino." Melendez roughed up Pettis in the first round, keeping the stand-up specialist on his toes, but an errant takedown attempt by The Scrap Pack member allowed Pettis to cinch in the guillotine choke for the latter's second straight win by submission.
With his first successful title defense in the books, he can now exhale a little bit. But not for long. Unless Pettis wants to end up like Gumby, he's going to need to pull out all the stops to send Dos Anjos packing.
"Rafa" is a smothering lightweight. The 30-year-old sports one of the toughest top games in the division. Elbows and hammer fists are Dos Anjos' best friends. He did his best Chael Sonnen impression when he battered Nate Diaz on the ground for close to 15 minutes.
Dos Anjos is much more than a dominant ground fighter, though. He's rocked numerous fighters like Cerrone, Henderson and Jason High. As a southpaw, he is going to pose problems for Pettis, but it's nothing that the latter isn't familiar with.
Henderson, whom Pettis defeated twice, has a comparable offensive arsenal to the Brazilian. Both are southpaws, who constantly apply pressure and throw vicious kicks.
Pettis is a survivor. He has always found a way to emerge victorious, even when put in the most precarious situations. Not very often is a fighter capable of such feats.
The Roufusport leader has little to no weaknesses. His striking is not only the best that the division has to offer, but it's some of the best in the entire UFC. Pettis' last four appearances speak for themselves: T(KO), T(KO), submission, submission. In that span, he defeated two former champions.
Pettis doesn't just win; he wins emphatically and with flair. It's not a matter of if he will strike, but when he will strike. That likely won't deter Dos Anjos, whose titanium-fused jaw provides an extra layer of cushion.
All kidding aside, Dos Anjos is one tough fighter to crack. In fact, he's only been finished once, by Jeremy Stephens in his UFC debut. Pettis has never been finished in his entire career.
The durability of Dos Anjos and Pettis leads me to believe that both men will utilize each of the 25 minutes allotted to them.
Can Dos Anjos become the "Showstopper"? Only time will tell.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 185 fight card on fight night RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FX at 8 p.m. ET before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.