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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Nashville

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Nashville-Thompson vs Pettis
Anthony Pettis knocked out Stephen Thompson at UFC Nashville.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The stunning and sudden knockout by Anthony Pettis in Saturday’s UFC Nashville main event over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson epitomizes the unique nature of this sport.

Pettis (22-8) had lost six of his previous nine fights. Now granted, it wasn’t as bad as that sounds. Everyone who beat him — Rafael dos Anjos, Eddie Alvarez, Max Holloway, Edson Barboza, Dustin Poirier, and Tony Ferguson — are all either major championship contenders or former and current champions.

Still, in moving up a weight class, he was the biggest underdog on the show. He and Thompson (14-4-1) were having an exciting fight, but Thompson was winning. “Wonderboy” was quicker, had more reach, and was more accurate. By midway through the second round, Pettis’ face was largely crimson. Then, Pettis hit the superman punch with less than 10 seconds to go in the second round, it landed perfectly, and the fight was over.

Thompson had never been knocked out in a long career of 76 fights between kickboxing and MMA. But in MMA, it’s often a game of inches or less. No matter what the past shows, everyone can get beat and nobody is immune from the right punch from a striker with power if it connects.

People often make too detailed of conclusions based on the result of a fight, particularly a fight like this one where the analysis probably begins and ends with “a great punch landed in just the right spot.”

Has Pettis suddenly turned around his fortune really? Based on what was happening in the fight, he was a similar Pettis that we’ve seen the past several years, other than the punch landing perfectly. With Thompson, the fight was going exactly as he was probably expecting, until the punch landed. Is Pettis now improved? Should he be fighting at 170 instead of 155? Is Thompson on the downhill slide? It’s possible all of that is true or none of it is, and the only conclusion we can draw is that Pettis won a fight that he looked to be losing until the punch landed.

With Kamaru Usman having beaten Tyron Woodley to win the welterweight title, Thompson seemed back in business after being locked out of a title shot because he failed in two attempts to beat Woodley. Pettis seemed like a one-time big name moving up a division that Thompson could get past and be a short distance from a title shot.

Instead, in a game of “what have you done for me lately,” Pettis’ last few years are largely out the window. Now his entire career is back on track. He can be matched with any top contender at either lightweight or welterweight, and with a win, be under consideration for a title shot.

For Thompson, it’s the opposite. He was hurt by a close decision loss to Darren Till, who Thompson easily could have gotten the nod over. When he didn’t, it was Till who got a title shot at Woodley. Had Thompson received the decision, he probably wouldn’t have gotten that title shot, but would’ve been under consideration for one as soon as Usman won.

This is a fight that to really tell the long-term story on, we have to wait long-term. There are no conclusions you can draw, but a year from now, based on how Pettis and Thompson look going forward, we’re going to understand better if Pettis was that good, if Thompson has declined, or we may find out that nothing can be read into what the result meant, past that the punch landed, and it was the same Pettis and same Thompson afterwards.

Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five Stars of UFC Nashville.

ANTHONY PETTIS — Pettis, after the fight, said he was open to continue at welterweight or move back down to lightweight. At welterweight, he targeted a fight with dos Anjos (28-11). It was dos Anjos who defeated Pettis to win the UFC lightweight title in 2015. Dos Anjos already has a May 18 fight scheduled with Kevin Lee, another lightweight moving up, but if dos Anjos wins, Pettis could easily face him next.

If he drops back to lightweight, Pettis’ best shot at a major fight would be against the winner of this coming Saturday’s main event between Barboza (20-6) and Justin Gaethje (19-2).

STEVEN THOMPSON — The loss takes Thompson out of title contention, at least until that vivid memory of him being knocked out is replaced by however he comes across in his next fights. A good next opponent would be Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3).

CURTIS BLAYDES — Blaydes (11-2-1) completely dominated Justin Willis (8-2) for three rounds to take a one-sided decision. Blaydes asked for Junior dos Santos (21-5), Derrick Lewis (21-7) or Stipe Miocic (18-3) next.

Those would be the most viable opponents for him right now. The question is whether Miocic or dos Santos would be interested, since they should probably fight each other next. That would leave Lewis as the right opponent for Blaydes.

JUSSIER FORMIGA — Formiga (23-5) knocked Deiveson Figueiredo (15-1) out of the unbeaten club by taking a decision in a match that revolved around Formiga’s ability to constantly get Figueiredo down.

What’s next for him is tough, because we still don’t now what the future of the flyweight division is. Dana White talked this weekend about matching Formiga with Joseph Benavidez (27-5). The deal was that the winner faces Henry Cejudo for the flyweight title. White also noted that if Marlon Moraes or Cejudo would have to pull out for an injury in their bantamweight title fight he said they were considering, that either Formiga or Benavidez would be booked on the same show and one of them would move to the bantamweight title fight.

JENNIFER MAIA — With the win by Maia (16-5-1) over Alexis Davis (19-9), the former Invicta FC champion finds herself in good shape for a shot in the women’s flyweight division. Maia should next face Liz Carmouche (13-6), in what would be a natural top contender fight against whoever comes out as champion when Valentina Shevchenko defends her title next against Jessica Eye on June 8 in Chicago.