Max Holloway will square off with Anthony Pettis for the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight title in the UFC 206 main event on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. A unification bout with recently promoted undisputed champion Jose Aldo awaits the winner, as the three men attempt to fill the void left by Conor McGregor’s divisional departure.
In the welterweight co-headliner, Donald Cerrone meets Matt Brown in a three-round clash at 170 pounds that promises fireworks. The rest of the five-fight main card features a featherweight affair pairing Cub Swanson with Doo Ho Choi, a middleweight battle pitting Tim Kennedy against Kelvin Gastelum and a welterweight tilt matching Jordan Mein with Emil Weber Meek.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 206 “Holloway vs. Pettis” (current odds) matchup, with analysis and picks:
Interim UFC Featherweight Championship
Max Holloway (16-3) vs. Anthony Pettis (19-5)
THE MATCHUP: Though the circumstances surrounding it are a little fishy, the fact that this is now an interim title fight means that either Pettis or Holloway will go on to fight Jose Aldo. That alone makes this bout worthwhile. That it also happens to be a fantastic matchup is just the interim icing on the cake. Not only is it stylistically fascinating, with the aimless sharpshooter Pettis taking on the high-output Holloway, but it offers juicy narrative, as well. Can Pettis get back on track to a fight he asked for years ago, or will the consistently superb prospect finally get a crack at the throne?
I have gone back and forth in evaluating Pettis’ featherweight debut against Charles Oliveira. The fight was close. Pettis was still too easy to back into the fence and tie up, shortening the amount of time he had to figure out things in his most effective range; and Pettis seemed to gas pretty quickly. Then again, he may have been a little eager for a knockout after three straight losses and simply poured out too much energy in the first round. So maybe the weight cut was not a problem, and if it was, maybe it will not be this time. Pettis was on point with his countering and better equipped to deal with the kind of aggressive opponent that had troubled him in the past.
The final thing to take away from that Oliveira fight is a Pettis quality that is rarely discussed: He is teak-tough. Pettis has never been knocked out in nearly 10 years of professional fighting. Rarely has he even been staggered, despite absorbing clean strikes from some of the lightweight division’s most dangerous strikers, like Edson Barboza, Rafael dos Anjos and Jeremy Stephens. That mental and physical durability is a powerful ally for a powerful finisher. For all of his strategic flaws, Pettis is a phenomenal finisher. Sixteen of his 19 wins have come via knockout or submission; and a granite chin means “Showtime” can stay in the fight longer than most. Pettis’ left leg is a sniper rifle, and no amount of jostling can knock it off its target.
Holloway is a finisher, too, but it is attrition more than sheer timing and power that bring his fights to an end. When he faces men that do not usually get knocked out, he does not knock them out. Which means he will likely have to spend five rounds controlling and outmaneuvering Pettis, even if Pettis is really only fresh for two of them. Fortunately for Holloway, he is not Charles Oliveira -- a fact he pointedly demonstrated when he stopped Oliveira in one round last year. Where Oliveira is slow on his feet and doggedly committed to coming forward, Holloway is equally skilled moving in all directions. He can box; he can counter; he can pressure; and when he feels like it, he can brawl.
Strategically, Holloway is well-equipped to outwork another striker. On average, “Blessed” throws 13.05 significant strikes per minute, landing 5.61. That represents a rate of nearly 200 attempted strikes per 15 minutes. Pettis, for comparison, lands only 2.54 of the approximately 5.91 strikes he throws every minute. His average per 15-minute fight is less than half of Holloway’s output.
Both men are opportunistic submission artists, but there is little chance that this fight will play out on the ground. Neither man has a habit of shooting for takedowns, while both men are difficult to get off-balance. Unless it happens in a wild scramble after a knockdown, neither man will end this fight by submission.
THE ODDS: Holloway (-195), Pettis (+165)
THE PICK: Pettis may have lost some of his shine after a trio of defeats and the loss of his belt, but he is essentially still the same fighter that won the title, for better and for worse. Opponents have figured out the technical and strategic weaknesses in Pettis’ game -- his limited footwork, his single-layered defense and his willingness to wait for the perfect shot -- and that means he will be constantly fighting tooth-and-nail, barring some dramatic evolution on his part. No one, however, has taken away Pettis’ durability and killer instinct. He will pose a threat to Holloway for every one of the 25 minutes he is given. Fortunately for the Hawaiian, he is also a very durable fighter and his style gives him the advantage of the averages. The pick is Holloway by unanimous decision.
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