The Rear Naked Column 1.23.14: Is Showtime the Answer?
Posted by Samer Kadi on 01.23.2014
With the lightweight division historically failing to deliver on PPV, can Anthony Pettis be the UFC's answer to the division's underwhelming numbers? 411's Samer Kadi takes a look!
As a follow-up to last week's column regarding the UFC's potential PPV struggles in 2014 and their inability to create new stars, "The Rear Naked Column" will touch on a man who, with the right marketing, could turn into a reliable PPV headliner, and bring interest to a division that seldom drew – a walking highlight reel, Anthony Pettis.
While it would be a huge stretch to pencil in the recently crowned lightweight champion as a sure-fire future PPV draw, especially given the lightweight division's historical struggles in that regard (the numbers for his fight with Henderson are hardly promising indicators) Anthony Pettis could be the best thing to happen to the 155 lbs. weight-class since BJ Penn -- not that competition is actually stiff, as far as marketability is concerned.
Jon Jones aside, the UFC has failed to produce a fighter that truly captures people's imagination in the past couple of years. Despite being victorious in all of his outings, Jose Aldo's UFC career has so far failed to live up to its guarantees of can't-miss brutality, while Cain Velasquez hasn't been active enough to satisfy the audience's appetite for sanctioned violence. Recently retired PPV golden boy Georges St-Pierre was hardly notorious for his audience-friendly style, while the genius of Anderson Silva has finally been halted. At a time when complaints about decisions, lack of finishes, and risk-free fighting styles remain rampant, the rise of a certified in-cage magician like Anthony Pettis in a division not particularly known for appeasing bloodlust (in the eyes of casuals) is a huge breath of fresh air.
With a highlight reel that would make even "The Spider" himself jealous, an interesting personality that isn't fueled by needlessly over-the-top antics, as well as having just the right look (whatever that is), Pettis could reignite interest in the ever talented lightweight division. To do so however, he requires full promotional backing from his employers. The UFC needs to put its full weight behind Pettis, and ensure that "Showtime" gets the exposure his immense talent undoubtedly deserves.
Simply informing its audience as to how exciting Pettis is a week or two before a scheduled bout is not going to cut it, and Zuffa need to go above and beyond to familiarize the champ with those who put money in their pockets. Pettis has an interesting and relatable back-story to tell, a compelling rise to the top, and quite the robust library of fights – dating back to his WEC days – for the UFC to show. "Creating new stars" seems to be the de facto phrase coined around to justify the UFC's relative slump, and now that a star has fallen right into their lap, the opportunity cannot be missed.
Despite historically producing some of the UFC's greatest ever contests, the lightweight division has never drew well on PPV – a theme that is even more glaring in sub-155 pound divisions. After the WEC merger, the additions of the frantically exciting featherweight and bantamweight divisions were cause for much anticipation and fanfare. Things however, did not go quite according to plan. The WEC lighter weight fighters that once took turns exhibiting thrilling displays of Mixed Martial Arts brilliance that would make your average Dana White all-caps-tweet-approved UFC brawl look dull by comparison suddenly lost their luster, through no fault of their own. Jose Aldo, perhaps the most talented fighter in the sport, has been greatly misused, while champions Renan Barao and Demetrious Johnson are seen as the equivalent of an intercontinental champion in professional wrestling.
Pettis alone cannot be expected to help solidify the place of four different divisions, but with the right approach, he could at least establish his own. It helps that the likes of Ben Henderson, Gilbert Melendez and Nate Diaz are not completely unfamiliar names, and the audience is somewhat aware of the champion's potential competition. However, after botching the seemingly can't-miss promotion for Pettis' rematch with "Bendo" last summer, the UFC could use a big fight.
When Pettis does eventually return from his customary yearly injury, it will be interesting to see whether the UFC pairs him up with Aldo, which is a fight they previously attempted to put together and Pettis himself demanded after his championship triumph. While it is unlikely to be Pettis' first fight back, it is a bout the UFC could benefit from, and help promote two of their most enthralling talents. Despite being a hardcore fan's wet dream, and having the cachet of a "champion vs. champion" label, the fight as off now, is unlikely to do any remarkable business on PPV, meaning the UFC would need to build Pettis' name in the meantime, as to avoid simply "throwing the fight away" the way they did with Aldo and Edgar.
Should they proceed with that dream fight however, they will need to figure out the logistics and get both parties to agree. Ideally, the bout would take place at 155 pounds, as Aldo has looked quite depleted in his last few featherweight outings, and for the sake of spectacle, making the bout at lightweight would be the way to go, in order to ensure that the Brazilian would be his dynamic self. Likewise, 155 lbs. is the division Pettis has competed in his entire career. Of course, this could raise all sorts of protests, as it means that the lightweight title would arbitrarily be on the line, as opposed to the featherweight belt (a similar situation would be created if it's the other way around, of course), and the UFC might be in for the boxing-esque situations Dana White dreads so vehemently.
Nevertheless, from a fan's perspective, it is difficult not to want to see that bout put together while it remains possible, as the stylistic match-up alone makes this a can't miss fight. If promoted correctly, the bout can be a game-changer as far as the both men – and the lightweight division -- are concerned.