Anthony Pettis suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in his career at UFC Fight Night 81 in Boston. The manor of Eddie Alvarez’s split decision victory means Pettis must adapt his style if he has any hope of reclaiming the lightweight championship.
Back in March Pettis lost his belt as Rafael Dos Anjos issued relentless forward pressure and closed the distance between the two to completely wipe out the attacking threat that ‘Showtime’ poses when standing.
On Saturday night it was clear that Alvarez had watched that fight closely and decided to replicate the performance. From the first encounter to the last he focussed his energy on forcing Pettis’ back to the cage, ensuring that he had no space or time to unleash a weapon from his devastating arsenal.
The fact that Alvarez is nowhere near as accomplished in grappling as Dos Anjos is worrying for the former champ. The Brazilian could manhandle almost any man in the world. Alvarez on the other hand is famed for his striking yet he still managed to comprehensively shut-down Pettis. It is fair to argue that if Alvarez can nullify Pettis, then based on current form, a good deal of the UFC’s ranked lightweights may be able to as well.
His most recent defeat means that in his three UFC defeats he has given up 20 completed takedowns. The blueprint on how to beat Anthony Pettis is so obvious that anyone he ever faces from now until the end of his career will try and do exactly what Alvarez, Henderson and Clay Guida did: take him down and suffocate him.
But all is not lost for the 28-year-old. In claiming the title against Benson Henderson and defending it for the first time against Gilbert Melendez he faced a similar challenge. While neither fight got out of the second round both opponents appeared to embrace their wrestling roots in the hope of securing victory.
On those occasions Pettis managed to use the short time he had dictating the fight to deliver brutal shots which ultimately enabled him to finish the fight. Even though he had precious little time to deliver punches and kicks, he used the time he did have to soften up his opponents before finishing them.
Conor McGregor has the same problem as Pettis, anyone he fights is going to try and take him down, which is exactly what Chad Mendes did at UFC 189. The tactic was working well for Mendes until in the end, McGregor used the window of opportunity he had while standing up to win the fight. Pettis need to be similarly opportunistic.
Both the Henderson and the Melendez fight ended in submission but both were facilitated by the work he did on the feet. Bearing this in mind it may be wise for him to invest more in his submission game in order to counter the approach that his future opponents will employ. He has shown that he is an excellent submission artist, so why not keep working on that instead of trying to catch up with everyone else with regard to wrestling, which was his tactic in the lead up to UFC Fight Night 81.
In reaction his title loss at UFC 185 he began working with the highly regarded wrestling coach Izzy Martinez, who works with the likes of Jon Jones and Holly Holm. He dedicated a good portion of his camp working on wrestling and spent time away from his usual team at Roufusport to try and rebound from his loss. Despite this he still looked utterly outclassed in the attritional type of fight which Alvarez brought.
Anthony Pettis is too good and too young to let this issue plague his career, he will bounce back. But he has a lot to work on before he can think about stepping back inside the octagon against someone as good as Dos Anjos. He must seriously improve his defensive grappling and vitally he has to learn how to dictate the fight on his own terms so that he can utilise the skills that got him to the top in the first place.