Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight kickboxers Anthony Pettis and Edson Barboza will hunt for the knockout this Saturday (April 23, 2016) at UFC 197 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For the first time in his entire career, Pettis has lost back-to-back fights. He's at a bit of a crossroads, as "Showtime" needs to return to win column here or go back the drawing board entirely. While Barboza hasn't been able to string together any win streaks worthy of a title shot, the Brazilian has proven himself one of the best in the world. Facing off with a fellow elite striker, this is Barboza's opportunity to make a statement.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Benson Henderson (UFC 164, WEC 53), Gilbert Melendez (UFC 181), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 6)
Key Losses: Rafael dos Anjos (UFC 185), Eddie Alvarez (UFC Fight Night 81), Clay Guida (TUF 13 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Pettis is a stellar Taekwondoe striker with great submission grappling as well. Between those two dynamic skills and his opportunistic instincts, Pettis has finished 15 of his prior opponents.
He's definitely looking to add to that total here.
In this bout, Pettis doesn't really have to worry about the takedown for the first time in a long time. In his last bout, Pettis had a real issue with hesitating to throw his strikes due to the threat of the shot.
Since he doesn't have that weighing on his mind, Pettis needs to make sure that he's throwing more than his opponent. Both men are very high level strikers, which often results in a close decision as neither can find the major opening they require to land a knockout blow.
Therefore, whoever throws and lands more will likely be ahead on the scorecards. Besides all the usual advantages of throwing more strikes -- any of which could end up being a knockout blow -- this will help ensure that Pettis doesn't end up on the wrong side of a decision once again.
Key Wins: Bobby Green (UFC Fight Night 57), Danny Castillo (UFC on FOX 9), Paul Felder (UFC on FOX 16)
Key Losses: Tony Ferguson (TUF 22 Finale), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 11), Michael Johnson (UFC Fight Night 61)
Keys to Victory: Barboza is a devastating Muay Thai striker. Along with his opponent, Barboza possesses some of the most devastating kicks in the division. In particular, Barboza's low kicks are brutal and have finished multiple foes.
Much like Pettis, Barboza doesn't have to worry about his opponent's takedowns, making this as close to a pure striking match up as a UFC fight can get. It's also a match up of two distance strikers who struggle with pressure, which does bring up an interesting question.
Will either fighter leave their usual strategy behind and attempt to pressure the other man?
In Barboza's case, I believe that would be a wise decision. If he can get Pettis moving backwards, Barboza's low kicks would quickly become available. Just a few of them could really limit Pettis' explosiveness and weaken his kicks, shifting the odds into Barboza's favor.
Additionally, Barboza should look to counter his opponent's kicks with his own low kicks. Barboza has a lot of experience in Muay Thai, so he should be quite experienced at passing his opponent's leg by/catching the kick then returning a low kick.
It could be a game changer.
Bottom Line: This is an insanely fun fight between two men who really need a win.
Having lost his last two, Pettis is in a difficult spot. If he loses a third here, he's pretty far out of the title mix and needs to make a change. Whether that's switching camps or simply taking some time off to motivate himself, it needs to happen.
On the other hand, Pettis is back in the swing of things with a victory over the highly dangerous Brazilian. He's not ready to rematch dos Anjos or anything like that, but Pettis is likely just a few more wins away from a title shot.
At the highest level, Barboza has been unable to string together consistent wins. He's won some important fights and looked great in certain scraps, but on the whole he's come up short against most of the elite fighters who he has faced.
This is Barboza's opportunity to buck that trend. If he beats Pettis, he's in the immediate title mix and won't be far from a shot. However, a loss solidifies his position as a very good fighter who cannot defeat the best.
At UFC 197, Anthony Pettis and Edson Barboza will throw down. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?