Dan Hardy column: Can Anthony Pettis hold on to his lightweight belt at UFC 185?

This week, British UFC welterweight and UFC commentator, Dan Hardy, looks ahead to UFC 185 and the tough test Anthony Pettis is going to face as he looks to hang on to the lightweight belt.

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The Independent Online

I'm often asked what I think is the toughest division in the UFC. It's a hard question to answer as it is one that is constantly changing as new fighters come through the ranks. Sometimes a champion will clear out the division and leave no obvious contender, however in the lightweight division there is always a line of worthy opponents ready to step up.

Staying at the top of such a deep division is never easy and few have successfully held the 70kg (155lbs) title for very long. The current king of the weight class is Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis. Although an established world class fighter, he is still in the early days of his reign as champion. Having taken the belt from Benson Henderson, and then having a break for surgery, he has only defended his position once against Gilbert Melendez.

In the meantime the pool of lightweight fighters have been jostling for position. The man currently standing at the top of the hill with his eyes on UFC gold, is Rafael dos Anjos. He has won eight of his last nine bouts, dropping a decision to unbeaten Russian phenom Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib, who is currently sidelined with an injury, will surely be watching the contest intently. Dos Anjos has already stated that if he wins the belt, a rematch with the Russian grappler is a must to truly secure his position as champion.

Although dos Anjos lost to Nurmagomedov, he showed great conditioning and resilience. Since that fight he has clearly leveled up and has been looking more and more impressive. This is a great time for him to challenge for the title, but the odds will not be in his favour. Pettis has captivated the fans with his dynamic spinning and flying kicks. He is famous for the self-named 'Showtime' kick, which can br seen on highlight reels time and time again.

Using his athletic ability coupled with a third degree black belt in Taekwondo, he is pioneering a method of attack using the fence as a springboard. The above mentioned Showtime kick was made famous when he "ran up the fence like a ninja", to quote the commentator, in his first bout with Henderson. Jumping off the fence, he kicked Hendo across the face knocking him to the canvas, surprised and dazed.

Rafael must pressure him from the start, push him up against the fence and turn it into a brawl. We know he has the cardio to push a pace on Pettis, and giving the champ space will only make the fight more dangerous for the challenger. If he can get the fight to the ground his grappling skills could trouble Pettis and maybe open up a submission opportunity.

It's a stern test for the lightweight king, but in this division there will never be an easy defense of the title. If he deals with dos Anjos, Nurmagomedov will be ready and waiting. After him there are guys like Cowboy, Michael Johnson and Myles Jury. Pettis certainly has the ingredients to hold the belt for a long time. As long as he stays healthy and prepares well, it will be difficult to take that title away.

The co-main event is the first defense of the women's new straw-weight division. Ultimate Fighter 20 winner and current champion, Carla Esparza will put her wrestling skills to the test against rising Polish striker, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. We also have a number one contender fight between Johnny 'Big Rigg' Hendricks and Matt 'The Immortal' Brown. That will be one hell of a fight. The top five or six guys in the welterweight division are all so evenly matched, I see that title changing hands fairly frequently for the foreseeable future.

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Carla Esparza (Botarri / Zuffa)

 

It's a big night of fights, with two title fights and a talented supporting case. Be sure to tune in and watch on BT Sport 1 from midnight on Saturday.

@DanHardyMMA

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