The UFC’s crazy schedule continues this weekend with another Fight Night card on ESPN+ in the US, as the promotion will head to Nashville, Tennessee for the first time since April 2017 for UFC Fight Night 148: Thompson vs. Pettis.
On paper at least this appears to be the weakest card of the UFC’s most recent efforts, although there are still at least four or five fights on offer that should provide plenty of action. The main event, in particular, sounds pretty crazy – essentially a non-title ‘superfight’.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Fight Night 148: Thompson vs. Pettis.
#1 Stephen Thompson vs. Anthony Pettis
This is one of those matches that almost sounds wrong when you hear it initially but makes a ton of sense when you actually step back to think about it for a second. Stephen Thompson hasn’t fought since his May 2018 loss to Darren Till – a razor-close decision – while Anthony Pettis has never fought above 155lbs before and has even competed at 145lbs. Essentially then, the UFC has made this fight as the two men are two of the best strikers in the sport, and prior to the booking, both men felt miles away from the title picture in their respective divisions.
That may well have changed since; Thompson came up short in two title challenges against Tyron Woodley, meaning a third title shot was always unlikely, but of course, Kamaru Usman has since dethroned ‘The Chosen One’. Thompson probably won’t earn another title shot with a win here, but it’d certainly put him back into contention. So can he pick up a victory over ‘Showtime’?
This is a fascinating match because really, it’s likely to take place purely in the striking realm. Pettis is a far more proven grappler – he has numerous submissions on his ledger including wins over Michael Chiesa and Benson Henderson – but he’s not a natural offensive wrestler and he’ll almost definitely be the smaller man in the cage. Plus, Thompson’s takedown defense is pretty great to the point that even Woodley found it hard to ground him.
Both men are also highly unorthodox strikers. ‘Wonderboy’ comes from a karate background and uses that point-fighting style to great effect, darting in and out with strikes almost like a fencer would, and his traditional martial arts training shines through in his use of various flashy kicks. Pettis meanwhile is more of a classic Muay Thai striker who loves to throw kicks to the legs, body and head, but he’s also capable of wild strikes – most notably his famous ‘Showtime Kick’ from his WEC bout with Henderson in 2010.
Where this one becomes tricky to break down is in terms of who’s going to push the fight. Thompson is very much a counter-striker – try to hit him and he’ll probably catch you with three shots in response, but if his opponent doesn’t push forward, it’s easy to lull him into a low output fight, as Till did last year. On the other hand, Pettis is more aggressive, but notably has problems if an opponent forces him to retreat and go backwards.
So for me, the big question here is whether Thompson decides to eschew his usual counter-striking style to push the pace on Pettis in an attempt to make him break as Rafael Dos Anjos, Tony Ferguson and Edson Barboza did. An aggressive Thompson is an interesting thought – we’ve seen him swarm opponents before, but those swarms have usually come after he’s hurt somebody. The problem for ‘Wonderboy’ might come if he decides to employ his usual gameplan.
That’s because by standing off at range and allowing Pettis to come to him, he risks getting caught by something nasty from a fighter who, due to his smaller size, should theoretically have a speed advantage. Even Max Holloway wasn’t able to counter Pettis successfully – instead, he too used the same aggressive gameplan to back ‘Showtime’ up and punish him as he retreated.
Part of me favors Pettis here, simply because whenever he’s been involved in striking matches before and an opponent hasn’t forced him to retreat, he’s won. It’s admittedly true that he hasn’t faced a striker as skilled as Thompson before, but styles make fights and it is possible to imagine ‘Wonderboy’ and his almost pure counter-striking game struggling for success against someone as quick and dynamic as Pettis.
With that said though, Wonderboy easily picked Jorge Masvidal apart when they fought, and while I’d argue Masvidal isn’t as quick or dynamic as Pettis, he’s more durable and gave up a lot of size to Thompson, who’s a deceivingly large Welterweight. This could be a dull fight for a while as Pettis attempts to find his range while Thompson goes into counter-mode, but I think in the end Thompson will catch ‘Showtime’ with something nasty and I don’t think Pettis will survive the swarm that follows.
The Pick: Thompson via third round TKO