You need to have patience if you’re a UFC lightweight these days.
There are a few fighters on Saturday’s UFC on FOX 6 card in Chicago who can attest to that, but certainly none more than Anthony (Showtime) Pettis.
Back when he was fighting in the WEC, where in December 2010 beat Benson Henderson to become that organization’s last 155-pound title-holder before it was absorbed by the UFC, the lightweight division was nowhere near as deep as it is right now.
Frankie Edgar had just beaten B.J. Penn, the champion for over two years, for the second straight time and was scheduled to fight Gray Maynard, the de facto No. 1 contender at the time. Pettis was promised the next title shot, and it made perfect sense, with few other real top candidates in the UFC.
That’s when the lightweight division got bogged down for a while. And bogged down is an understatement.
An unexpected draw led to an immediate Edgar-Maynard rematch. Rather than wait for the title shot he earned, Pettis decided to take another fight in the UFC, to keep busy, and keep getting paid.
Unfortunately, he was smothered by Clay Guida for three rounds and lost a decision — and his shot at UFC glory for the time being.
Still, Pettis was patient. He responded with two wins over the past two years, seemingly putting himself at the top of the lightweight ladder again.
However, Edgar would fight in another close fight against Benson Henderson, leading to yet another immediate rematch. And in the meantime, Pettis got injured and was unable to position himself as the No. 1 contender as Nate Diaz passed him.
Now Pettis is two years removed from the biggest win of his career — highlighted by the off-the-cage “Showtime” kick that gave him fame — and he still can’t get a title shot.
However, the 25-year-old said Thursday he doesn’t regret the decision he made in early 2011 to fight Guida.
“I don’t regret it at all. I had to have that happen for me to get to where I’m at now,” Pettis said at Thursday’s pre-fight press conference. “(Guida) exposed a hole in my game, so me and my coaches went back, we covered that hole. I feel like I’m a complete fighter now. That happening to me was a good thing.”
Talk about a patient attitude. I wonder though if it will be tested that much more in 2013, because even if he beats Donald Cerrone on Saturday night on the main card, he will still have to wait for a while before stepping into the cage with the belt-holder.
That’s because the already deep lightweight class has added Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, who is getting an immediate shot at Henderson’s UFC lightweight title in a unification bout — ironic considering Pettis’ chance to unify the WEC/UFC belts went by the wayside through no fault of his own. (Good thing for Gil that Bendo’s last win over Diaz was clear cut. I guess timing is everything.)
It could be an even longer while still before Pettis gets a sniff at that title bout. The most highly-sought after free agent right now is former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez and should he get through his current legal battle and sign with the UFC, it has been reported he may get an immediate shot. So Pettis could be faced with the same dilemma yet again: wait for the next shot or risk it.
Cerrone, who has won two straight, could be in a similar position if he beats Pettis. The 29-year-old, who came up short three times fighting for the WEC lightweight championship losing to Jamie Varner and twice to Henderson, has had a hard time getting himself in position for a shot at the UFC belt. A six-fight win streak after that last Hendo loss couldn’t even get him a title shot, and a loss to Diaz in December 2011 set him back to the drawing board.
“The fight with Nate exposed holes in my game that have to fix,” Cerrone said.
But there’s one Canadian lightweight who knows how long a road it could be to the top of the 155-pound ranks.
TJ Grant is undefeated since he made a decision to drop down to 155 pounds after an up-and-down career in the UFC’s welterweight division. His three-fight win streak which is currently the second longest in the division behind Henderson’s six in a row. But Grant, who faces veteran Matt Wiman in the last fight of the undercard Saturday, is not even in the top 10.
Good thing the 28-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., has patience of his own.
“I definitely didn’t go down to the 155 division because I thought it was an easier task. I went down there just because I felt that’s where I belonged with my size and stuff like that,” Grant said in an interview with Sportsnet.ca. “There’s really no easy fights. In my opinion it’s the most stacked division in the UFC and I definitely have my work cut out for me.”
Despite being very impressive at lightweight, including a Fight of the Night win over Evan Dunham in September, Grant hasn’t even been able to get a main card bout yet. But he knows that, just like title shots, those opportunities will come in due time as long as he keeps winning.
“You win three straight in the UFC, I don’t take that for granted,” Grant said. “I know how hard that is and I also know I’m in a great position right now, and I’ve got to take advantage of it while I’m here.”
It can be a long haul for anyone currently in the UFC’s lightweight division, but these guys are certainly up for it. They just have to be persistent in the cage — and patient outside it.
JUMPING THE LINE? Grant said he understands why Melendez is getting an immediate title shot, though he wouldn’t give one to Alvarez.
“It’s a business,” Grant said. “(Melendez) has been around a long time, he’s had a lot of success over the years. He’s an exciting fighter, he’s a good fighter. … I know that’s the way it goes and Gilbert’s definitely a deserving fighter and has been around a long time.”
“I don’t think Eddie should,” added Grant, who noted that Alvares has only won a couple fights since losing his Bellator title to Michael Chandler. “I think he should be in the mix. He earned a spot to be a top-10 guy, but in the UFC, it’s a whole another class. Every fight is against the best in the world and I feel like he has to get right in line with the rest of us.”