It wasn’t long ago that Anthony Pettis was rumored to fight Justin Gaethje in a lightweight bout at UFC on ESPN 1. For whatever reason, that fight never materialized. Instead, the UFC booked Gaethje against Edson Barboza in what should be a lightweight showdown of epic proportions. The UFC matchmakers gave Pettis a different opponent altogether, but with a twist. For the first time in his UFC career, Pettis will be moving up to welterweight, and he’ll make his 170lbs debut against top contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson at UFC Fight Night Nashville this coming March.
At first glance, this is some strange matchmaking. It’s a very interesting move by Pettis and his camp to move up in weight this late in his career. Not only did Pettis have a tremendous amount of success as a lightweight in the UFC, even holding the championship belt for a couple of years, it’s still surprising to see him move up to 170. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Pettis fought at 145lbs, although that move didn’t go as planned after he missed weight in a title fight. Considering it wasn’t that long ago that he was fighting as a featherweight, it definitely raises eyebrows seeing him move up in weight at this point of his career.
The UFC isn’t doing any favors to Pettis by matching him up against Thompson, either, as he’s easily one of the best welterweights in the UFC. Thompson is similarly skilled to Pettis but arguably more durable, faster, and bigger. On paper it just looks like a terrible matchup for Pettis. At the same time, though, he kind of skips the line in this bout by taking on a top-five opponent. The risk is all on Thompson in this fight, as Pettis has nothing to lose here. He’s going to be expected to lose, and rightly so, as Thompson is the better fighter right now. For Thompson, it must have been a situation where he wants to get back in the Octagon after having not fought since last May’s robbery decision loss to Darren Till. And on paper it should be a winnable fight for him here against Pettis.
At the same time, though, why couldn’t the UFC have found a top-ranked welterweight to fight Thompson? Fighters like Santiago Ponzinibbio and Leon Edwards deserved this fight against the top-ranked Thompson so much more. Outside of UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman, Thompson might be the best welterweight in the UFC. There were guys who have been putting in the time at 170lbs that deserved the chance to fight him and take his ranking away from him more than against Pettis. It’s going to look awfully strange if Pettis somehow pulls off the upset here and then gets ranked above guys like Ponzinibbio who are on long winning streaks within the division.
Stylistically, Pettis vs. Thompson is a decent fight, but there were other fights that the UFC could have booked. Instead of booking Pettis against Thompson right off the bat, the promotion should have given him a falling veteran such as Carlos Condit, Matt Brown or Neil Magny, fighters who have seen their better days. Those fights would have made a lot more sense and wouldn’t disrupt the rankings and natural pecking order at 170lbs. Instead, Pettis is getting gifted a shot against a top-five opponent and is getting an opportunity to jump ahead of other guys. There were better fights the UFC could have and should have booked. It’s definitely far from the worst matchup the UFC has ever put together, but Pettis vs. Thompson at welterweight is strange matchmaking indeed.