The UFC’s featherweight title picture will get a lot more intriguing as the red-hot Max Holloway meets former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis with an interim 145-pound belt on the line — for Holloway, not Pettis.
UFC 206 marks the first time the UFC has held an event in Toronto in three years. Here is a head-to-toe breakdown of the dynamic main event.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Fighting out of: Waianae, Hawaii
Weight: 145 pounds
Arm reach: 69 inches
Leg reach: 42 inches
Team: Gracie Technics, Legacy Muay Thai
MMA record: 16-3
UFC record: 12-3
Notable Accomplishments: No. 2-ranked featherweight, third-longest active winning streak in UFC (9)
Nickname: Showtime Fighting out of: Milwaukee
Weight: 148 pounds (Pettis missed weight)
Arm reach: 72 inches
Leg reach: 40 inches
Background: Taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu
MMA record: 19-5
UFC record: 6-4
Notable Accomplishments: Former UFC lightweight champion, former WEC lightweight champion, No. 5-ranked featherweight
Striking is the bread-and-butter for both Holloway and Pettis and while they share many similarities in terms of how varied and unorthodox they can be, they are still different. Holloway is primarily a pressure fighter who throws in high-volume combinations averaging 5.61 strikes landed per minute while only absorbing 3.76. He has stiff straight shots and throws punches in bunches towards the head and body confusing opponents. He uses his long legs to keep opponents at bay and has been known to throw crazy kicks not unlike Pettis with his roundhouse kicks or spinning hook kicks. In the clinch, Holloway has nasty elbows and devastating knees. When factoring with his iron chin, savvy defence, and killer instinct, Holloway has a case for being the best striker in the division with Conor McGregor now out of the picture.
Pettis isn’t as frantic of a striker as Holloway averaging 2.54 strikes landed per minute. He also absorbs 2.38 in return but it is mostly due to absorbing strikes from the ground or in the clinch. Pettis doesn’t have the same volume as Holloway because he’s more measured and calculated. Against Joe Lauzon, he landed a head kick knockout by using his straight punches to trick Lauzon hence when Lauzon dropped his hand to block Pettis’s punch, he found the small window to land the kick and finish Lauzon immediately. But against Edson Barboza, he was simply outstruck by the superior Muay Thai fighter who was faster and more experienced. Against Holloway he will be the faster, stronger, and more experienced fighter changing the dynamic altogether.
If Holloway lets Pettis settle in and this turns this into a fight full of calculated striking exchanges, he may open himself up for Pettis to land a kill shot. But if Holloway continuously applies forward pressure and throws combinations he can keep Pettis off balance and back him into the cage where he’s free to land his body shots and knees. Pettis can keep the fight at range and make his selective shots count. He has the speed and precision to finish anyone no matter how tough they are.
Wrestling may be the last thing to expect from both fighters. Although Pettis flashed some wrestling offence against Jeremy Stephens, both he and Holloway rarely use it. Holloway has only landed two takedowns in his entire UFC career while Pettis averages a measly 0.84 takedowns per 15 minutes.
In terms of their wrestling defence, Holloway has an advantage over Pettis defending 82 per cent of takedowns and stuffing all of them in his last six contests. Pettis’s takedown defence is at 61 per cent but he lost three of four UFC fights because he surrendered at least five takedowns to each opponent. The takedown is there for Holloway if he chooses to level change against Pettis.
GRAPPLING & SUBMISSIONS
Neither Holloway nor Pettis are black belts at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but both are proficient submission fighters. Holloway hasn’t showed his grappling and submissions skills as often as Pettis mainly because he keeps fights at a distance more. As a blue belt in BJJ, Holloway is still growing as a grappler but he is great at scrambling and loves to target the neck with both of his sub wins coming via guillotine choke but he hasn’t shown any other moves.
Pettis has a distinct advantage in this department. In fact, Pettis has won seven of the eight UFC/WEC bouts he attempted a submission in. He averages 1.2 submissions per 15 minutes and has nine career submission victories mostly coming via chokes. He is dangerous any time he goes to the mat and submitted former champion Benson Henderson with an armbar from the bottom. He also submitted dangerous submission expert Charles Oliveira with a guillotine choke despite surrendering four takedowns.
CARDIO AND CONDITIONING
Holloway has never shown any noticeable endurance issues and after dominating Ricardo Lamas for three rounds he still looked as energetic as ever standing in the pocket and trading haymakers with him.
Pettis has gone five rounds twice in his career and didn’t show significant lag due to fatigue in either of those contests. In his first five-rounder, he landed his world-famous “Showtime Kick” to clinch the victory in a back-and-forth affair against Benson Henderson in the WEC. In his second five-rounder, he was mauled by Rafael dos Anjos but despite that he continued manufacturing offence. Cardio shouldn’t be an issue for either fighter here unless Pettis’s unsuccessful weight cut has an impact on him.
SIZE AND ATHLETICISM
At almost six feet tall, Holloway enjoys a size advantage over most of his featherweight opponents but Pettis being a former lightweight is about the same size. Pettis also enjoys a three-inch reach advantage although Holloway has the longer legs. Both fighters have long and lean frames leading to their flexibility during a fight. Pettis’s explosiveness and power also translated well despite shedding extra pounds against Charles Oliveira.
Save the trash talk. Both Holloway and Pettis are walkers, not talkers. Holloway grew up in a rough neighbourhood and claims to have been fighting since he was a kid and Pettis, likewise, had to fend for himself at an early age. Despite their exciting high-flying styles, both fighters have a “kill or be killed” mentality and go for finishes often. Fighting conservatively isn’t their style.
Odds as of Friday had Holloway as a 2-1 favourite while the comeback on Pettis is as high as +180. The fight is almost like a pick ’em and Pettis may be undervalued in this spot. Holloway’s nine-fight winning streak is impressive but he hasn’t fought anyone like Pettis.