The Film Room: Anthony Pettis

By Kevin Wilson Mar 20, 2019
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Anthony Pettis on Saturday will make his Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight debut when he takes on Stephen Thompson in the UFC Fight Night 148 main event in Nashville, Tennessee. From being the first mixed martial artist to appear on a Wheaties box to going 3-6 across his last nine appearances, Pettis may have experienced one of the steepest falls from grace in UFC history. However, a win over “Wonderboy” could conceivably turn around his career and put him right in the thick of things at 170 pounds.

Pettis provides the material for this installment of The Film Room.

What made Pettis so feared in his prime was his unorthodox style, deadly fast kicks, patient striking and the ability to fight from both stances. He has never had the best boxing or footwork, but his kicks and ability to keep his opponents at a distance is how he finds success. The other aspect that makes fighting Pettis so difficult is his creativity. Pettis became famous after his “Showtime” kick against Benson Henderson in World Extreme Cagefighting, and although he has toned it down in the UFC, the threat is always there. This allows him to get away with things the average fighter could not, like leaping forward with his hands down.

Pettis also heavily relies on standard round kicks to the head and body; what makes them so dangerous is that he requires little to no setup to connect with them. Pettis has been training in taekwondo since he was 5 years old, and those tendencies have helped him become one of the best kickers in the sport. Taekwondo is a kick-heavy discipline in which fighters are taught how to land their kicks at any distance and are known for their ability to hide their setups, making them difficult to time and see coming. Most of Pettis’ kicks target the body, but lately, he has mixed them more to the thighs and calves and has developed a nice low-line sidekick to the lead leg after Max Holloway used it against him.

Pettis is a rather patient fighter, usually comes forward in short bursts and then resets at a comfortable range. When Pettis is working behind the jab and coming in with quick one-twos, he can be effective, but he often leaps forward with sloppy hooks and gets caught trading in the pocket. Something to notice about these leading exchanges is the lack of kicks. His kicks are obviously his best and most feared weapons, yet he rarely throws them when leading and saves them for distance striking, which can make him easier to read.

We may not have known it at the time, but Pettis’ first UFC fight against Clay Guida ended up showing us the blueprint for success against him. From the Guida fight, we learned that Pettis struggles to deal with pressure or to get his back off the cage and will stand and trade if he cannot use his distance striking. This same in-your-face strategy was used by Gilbert Melendez -- he was arguably winning their fight before being submitted -- and Rafael dos Anjos, who decimated Pettis for five rounds to become the lightweight champion. At this point in his career, Pettis’ defense does not figure to get much better. However, as a smaller welterweight, his likely speed advantage could help him evade attacks better with footwork.

Pettis will not initiate grappling exchanges, but if the fight does hit the ground, he has the submission skills to finish opponents. His guillotine has proven to be a particularly potent weapon. Pettis holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Daniel Wanderley, and half of his UFC wins have been submissions. It is hard to imagine the fight with Thompson going to the ground outside of a knockdown or slip, but if it does, Pettis would have a clear advantage. Advertisement


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