Pettis vs. Gilbert
Dec. 6 | Las Vegas
For the second year in a row, UFC lightweight champion Pettis clocks in at No. 2 in the Sherdog.com “Submission of the Year” race. Do not take it as a slight, though, “Showtime.” As far as most people are concerned, your finishing ways are earning you an honor greater than topping this list.
Coaching opposite one another on the “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 20 did virtually nothing to build extra excitement in the Pettis-Melendez clash set for UFC 181 on Dec. 6. However, in all honesty, it did not have to. Anyone with a serious interest in MMA was otherworldly excited to have Pettis back defending his title and to have it be against the perennial standout Melendez, who was snubbed by the judges in his first UFC lightweight title bid against Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 7 in April 2013. Both men had been out for more than a year, but the fight was built and teased over months, giving the MMA community plenty of time to contemplate its outcome. It seemed like a bona fide “Fight of the Year” contender, with many fans and media picking Melendez, figuring his rugged and active style would be able to win rounds against “Showtime,” with his great chin and great submission defense protecting him from Pettis’ lethal fight-ending skills.
Then again, if you read that last sentence, we could have been talking about his rematch with Henderson at UFC 164, and look how that turned out. In the end, Melendez’s fate was no different than Henderson’s, as Pettis found a way to attack him at his strength and prevail. Melendez was successful in the opening round, landing punches and moving Pettis back to the fence, where he forced him to defend instead of attack. Pettis’ got loose and found some striking success as the round closed, but there was no indication that a bombshell was right around the corner. Then again, that is how it is with Pettis.
Melendez went back to the tactics that won him the first round and had carried him throughout his career. This time, as he crowded Milwaukee’s favorite fighting son, Pettis zapped him with a quick right hand that stumbled the sure-chinned Melendez. The former Strikeforce champion tried to get inside for a takedown to buy a moment of recovery, and that was it. Pettis casually locked up his neck, jumped guard and rolled him into full mount in the blink of an eye. It took more than 12 years and 26 tries, but someone finally stopped Melendez. It figures it would be Pettis.
This was not a complex submission set up with a series of small, position maneuvers or clever grappling tricks. This was not a brutal submission, where the combination of angle and torque just create an unwinnable situation for the defending fighter. No, this was the best sniper in MMA just waiting for his target to come into the crosshairs and knowing he always has the green light to shoot.
What is more stirring about how the lightweight king is finishing his foes is that the stoppages seem to undermine the very ideas about his opponent’s strengths. Joe Lauzon likes a tough, blood-and-guts fight? Kick him in the head in 81 seconds. Donald Cerrone has an incredible chin? Crumple him with a liver kick in half a round. Henderson is so flexible, has such incredible takedown defense and just got his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt? Armbar him in less than five minutes. Melendez has never been stopped before? Hurt him with a punch and then force him to tap out.
The context matters. On a superficial level, this is just another instance where a hurt fighter shot a sloppy takedown and got guillotined. However, we all know this is much more than that broad stroke. This is Pettis effortlessly tapping Melendez. It is not necessarily what ends a fight for Pettis but how surgically he executes and how little it matters that he is consistently facing outstanding fighters in the sport’s best weight class. Regardless of whether or not he came in at No. 2 on the 2013 and 2014 “Submission of the Year” lists, the nature of Pettis’ recent finishes is already enough for many to consider him the greatest finisher this sport has seen.
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