Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight strikers Anthony Pettis and Edson Barboza last night (April 23, 2016) at UFC 197 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For the first time in his career, Pettis was coming off a pair of consecutive losses. The former champion really needed this victory, as it would push him back into the immediate title mix.
Similarly, this was a must-win bout for the Muay Thai veteran as well. Barboza had consistently fallen in his opportunities to topple the Lightweight elite, but this was another opportunity to buck that trend.
He was successful in that goal and scored the most important win of his career.
The two kickboxers took the center of the cage and immediately began feinting and looking for openings. Neither fighter was too aggressive early, as they understood how dangerous skill of the other man inside the Octagon.
After some tentative exchanges, Barboza began to land hard first. While he wasn't able to land any of his kicks cleanly, Barboza was definitely landing the better punches. In particular, Barboza's left hook was landing cleanly and may have stunned his opponent at one point.
The Brazilian undoubtedly took the opening round.
Pettis opened the round with some more wild attacks, but Barboza scored more cleanly with his basic inside low kick and the aforementioned left hook. Still, most the exchanges were rather even, as both men were doing their best to stay defensively tight and avoid getting blasted.
On the whole, the second round was far closer than the first. While Barboza was more effective with his hands and seemed to land a bit more overall, Pettis did find his range more effectively and score with a couple nice body kicks.
In a close fight like this, the last round is always very important.
For the first half of the round, Barboza did an excellent job using the jab to interrupt Pettis' kicks and offensive movement. It really stymied the former champion and allowed Barboza to control the pace of the round.
Additionally, Barboza's low kicks began to land more consistently and have a greater effect. He swept Pettis from his feet early in the round, and Barboza's inside low kicks were knocking his opponent out of his stance far more often.
Unlike the second, this round -- and by extension, the fight -- had a clear victor.
This was the best performance of Barboza's career. On one hand, that's a product of this style match up, as Barboza hasn't faced off with an elite opponent who prefers to kickbox at range since the "Cowboy" bought. This time, Barboza was never rocked by a punch and was able to pick his opponent apart for the entire fight.
When Anthony Pettis is shooting for double legs, that has to be a confidence builder.
On the whole, this was the same Barboza as usual. His hands have improved greatly since he began working with Mark Henry, and that made a huge difference in this bout. While both men had trouble scoring with kicks early, Barboza's sharper jabs and left hook allowed him to do more damage and eventually set up his own kicks.
And damn, getting kicked by Barboza looks truly awful.
As for Barboza's next challenge, recent events have left Nathan Diaz without an opponent.
It's a difficult time to be Anthony Pettis. Three fights ago, people were talking about him like he was untouchable, like he could be Lightweight's first true kingpin to clear out the division for years. Instead, he's lost three straight and may have just fallen out of the top five.
On the whole, there's nothing Pettis did specifically wrong. He didn't make any terrible decisions in the cage or fight lazily. Pettis gave it his all and looked fairly rejuvenated from his work at Jackson's MMA, but he lost to a man who was simply better last night.
That's a particularly tough pill to swallow.
Pettis' immediate future is unclear. He's obviously an incredible talent, and he's nowhere near old or physically broken down. Perhaps a drop to Featherweight is next for Pettis, but I have a hard time seeing that go well for him, seeing as Barboza being able to match his speed was a big issue for "Showtime."
Ultimately, it's back to the drawing board for the former champion.
Last night, Edson Barboza out-struck Anthony Pettis across three rounds. Can the Muay Thai fighter earn a UFC title shot?