Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos go to war in just a few short hours this evening (Sat., March 14, 2015) in the UFC 185 pay-per-view (PPV) main event inside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Since a pair of mediocre showings in his first two UFC fights, Pettis has looked every bit the superstar promised from his World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) tenure. Knifing through quality opposition like a hot knife through butter, Pettis has plenty of fans salivating at his potential.
Meanwhile, dos Anjos has long been trying to announce himself as a contender. With dominant victories over Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz, dos Anjos has earned his shot, even if the odds makers are skeptical.
Let's take a closer look at the keys to victory for each fighter.
Key Wins: Benson Henderson (UFC 164, WEC 53), Gilbert Melendez (UFC 181), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 6)
Key Losses: Clay Guida (TUF 13 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Pettis is an absolutely phenomenal kickboxer, capable of destroying his opponent with a single kick from both southpaw and orthodox. Worst still for potential opponents, Pettis has proven himself to have a deadly ground game, as he locked up quick submissions in his last two bout.
Despite Pettis' historically solid ground game, he should not aim to grapple with dos Anjos unless the Brazilian is hurt by punches. If dos Anjos is smart, he'll be the one attempting to initiate the grappling exchanges, and Pettis needs to avoid that.
Just like in his bout with Melendez, Pettis needs to be sure to circle off the cage. Backing straight up into the fence will create a whole host of problems, from making it easier for dos Anjos to land effective strikes to giving up takedowns. In short, it's a position that Pettis does not want to be in.
Instead, Pettis should look to land counters as dos Anjos comes in, but above all else, circle back to the center of the Octagon. In time, dos Anjos will either ease up on the pressure -- allowing Pettis to work his devastating kicking game -- or run into a heavy counter shot.
Rafael dos Anjos
Key Wins: Ben Henderson (UFC Fight Night 49), Donald Cerrone (UFC Fight Night 27), Nate Diaz (UFC on FOX 13)
Key Losses: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC on FOX 11)
Keys to Victory: Dos Anjos is a very well-rounded combatant, equally able to strike with or grind out his foes. In order to defeat Pettis, it's imperative that dos Anjos is effective with both aspects of his attack and applies heavy pressure throughout the fight.
For all of Pettis' opponents, avoiding/blocking/countering the champions kicks has to be a major part of the game plan. Otherwise, they'll end up curled up in the fetal position in the center of the Octagon before they ever really had a chance to compete.
As has long been the case, it's much harder to kick while moving backwards. Melendez's pressure kept him out of the range of Pettis' deadly roundhouse kick for the most part, but he was not able to do anything with it.
Dos Anjos can.
"Rafa" has the aggressive, powerful kickboxing to get into Pettis' face and trade heavy blows. In fact, Rafael Cordeiro is one of dos Anjos' main striking coaches, and he's an expert at developing the aggressive style necessary to dealing with Pettis' kicks.
However, kickboxing alone will likely not be enough. To dethrone the champ, dos Anjos must also mix in his takedown attempts whenever given an opportunity. How he does that -- be it trying to duck under Pettis' punches or jam him into the fence with a double -- is up to dos Anjos and his team, but it needs to be a part of his attack.
If dos Anjos can get on top, he's excellent jiu-jitsu will come into play. Considering dos Anjos' aggressive top game, a submission does seem to be the Brazilian's best chance at pulling off an upset.
Bottom Line: Pettis is en route to becoming a major star, while dos Anjos is frequently overlooked and underrated. Either way, we'll have a hell of a story come Sunday morning.
The only thing stopping Pettis from breaking into the highest level of stars has been infrequency. Due to some injuries, Pettis has not been active enough to gain all of the mainstream's attention. If he can take out dos Anjos just a few months after smashing Melendez, it will go a long way in catapulting Pettis even further forward.
He has the look and ability, so if Pettis keeps winning, it's just a matter of time until he's one of the sport's most famous athletes.
Should Pettis fall to dos Anjos, it will definitely sting to lose the title, but "Showtime" wouldn't fall far. Since he's demolished most of the top five, he'd likely only be a win or two away from a chance at earning revenge.
This is dos Anjos' opportunity to step into the limelight. For whatever reason, signature victories over Benson Henderson and "Cowboy" Cerrone still haven't been enough to convince fans that "RDA" is an elite lightweight.
A strap made of gold certainly would.
On the other hand, a loss to Pettis would be devastating. Dos Anjos worked for a very long time to get to this point, and much of that progress would be swept away. Plus, Pettis wants to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov after "RDA," which would mean the champion already holds a victory over dos Anjos either way, which is a tough obstacle to overcome.
At UFC 185, Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos will put it all on the line for the lightweight strap. Which man will leave the Octagon strapped with gold?