UFC Lightweight Champion, Anthony Pettis, successfully defended his belt last night at UFC 181 by choking out the Former Strikeforce and Former WEC Champion, Gilbert Melendez. Even though it was definitely a big win for “Showtime”, I can’t help but think of some ways to critique his performance. I don’t want to take anything away from his victory and he definitely showcased his skills in a tough fight, but let’s also shed some light on what didn’t go his way and what he can improve upon in the coming years.
Starting out on a positive note, Anthony Pettis got the job done and again showcased his finishing ability. Never before have we seen a champion who is as efficient of a finisher as Anthony Pettis is; he is not one to point fight and is one of the very best at getting out of there before the judges can submit their scorecards.
Even though Melendez was able to get Pettis locked up and pushed against the cage (even taking him own briefly), Pettis did a great job slowing down the action and getting himself out of any danger. Melendez was trying to sneak around to his back, but Pettis step-by-step troubleshooted the situation and safely defended the attempt. Most other fighters probably would have panicked, or tried to explode out of the position and risk getting caught, but Pettis showed real maturity in stopping the action, taking a deep breathe, and using his head to get out of a tough spot early in the fight.
We knew coming into this fight that Pettis has one of the best kicking games in all of MMA, but we haven’t seen much of his hands as his legs usually get the job done. I was pleasantly surprised to see some good punching combinations thrown by Pettis, and the ability to recognize when he could punch and when he could kick. Of course Pettis wants to fight at his kicking range, but Pettis looked just as comfortable throwing bombs in the pocket as he does throwing kicks at a distance. His pure boxing skills looked very solid and he even was able to slip a lot of Melendez’s punches in the second round with his back against the cage.
Last, but not least, we saw Pettis’s finishing abilities not limited to strikes, but submissions as well. Of course Pettis showcased his high-level and vastly underrated BJJ skills against Benson Henderson in his last fight, but Pettis is still surprising people with his incredibly skilled submission skills. He really reminded me of an Alpha Male fighter with the way he locked up the guillotine when he had Melendez hurt. He could have risked going for the stoppage with strikes, but he showed just as much confidence in his submissions as any other part of his game.
Now on to a bit of critique. These are things that he didn’t necessarily do as well at and things that he’s lucky Melendez didn’t capitalize on when he did. First of which was his lack of head movement in the first round. If you payed attention to Duke Roufus (Pettis’s head trainer) in between rounds, he told Pettis that he needed to angle off more when Melendez was rushing in. Pettis did a bad job of this in the first round, and as a result got with some punches. It wasn’t until the second round that Pettis finally showed a bit of slipping ability and use of angles to not only get out of the way of Gilbert’s punches, but also put Pettis in a position to land punches of his own.
Pettis also should have been a little more active when defending Melendez’s takedowns. I understand wanting to strictly worry about staying on his feet, but I think throwing some punches/elbows to the head and body could have put some damage on Melendez and make Gil think twice about committing to the takedown attempts. Now that I look back on it, I can understand why Pettis wasn’t worried with inflicting damage because he knew that he’d get a chance to eventually, but for the future I’d like to see Pettis throwing defensive strikes when he was in the position that he was.
It’s hard to pick things that Pettis did a poor job on because he did have a great performance, but of course it didn’t come with out a little bit of adversity. One glaring part of Pettis’s performance that I did prefer to see was him backing straight up. This is why Melendez was able to stifle Pettis for the majority of the first round; all Gilbert had to do was push forward with punches and Pettis practically cornered himself against the cage. Maybe this was part of Anthony’s game plan, but it ultimately led to a nervous first round for many Pettis fans. I would’ve preferred to see more circular movement out of Pettis and avoid putting his back against the cage.
The other thing I want to touch on was his choice to sit down and brawl with Melendez. It paid off for him this time, but we know that weird things can happen amidst firefights like what Gil and Anthony got themselves into. Rather than going toe-to-toe with Melendez, I would have preferred to see Pettis create space, circular off, and reset in the center of the Octagon to get a crack at his kicking game. We see brief moments where Melendez backed off, and Pettis capitalized on the opportunity with a flying knee. I’d like to see more of that, and less rolling the dice by throwing his hands with his back against the cage. If Pettis were to get hit with something, he’d have no where to go.