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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday paid a visit to Nashville, Tennessee, with UFC Fight Night 148. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: THE SHOW CONTINUES
Anthony Pettis was in need of a serious rebrand. Since dropping his lightweight title in a wipeout decision loss to Rafael dos Anjos, “Showtime” has struggled to regain momentum. That defeat at UFC 185 was followed by two others and a failed experiment at cutting to featherweight. After breaking that three-fight skid, Pettis has alternated wins and losses, still unable to string together anything resembling sustained success.
While Pettis remains without back-to-back wins, he set himself apart from the pack yet again in the UFC Fight Night 148 main event, as he moved up a division and knocked out two-time welterweight title challenger Stephen Thompson. This time, however, the goodwill extends across two crowded and complex title pictures. Where once his options seemed limited in the not too distant past, Pettis’ world has opened as wide as it has ever been since he transitioned from World Extreme Cagefighting. Should “Showtime” decide to stay at welterweight, he instantly becomes a legitimate name in the championship hunt. While the size and wrestling-heavy approach for which the division has become known could prove to be his undoing, he has at least earned the right to throw his name in the hat. His name alone could open up the possibilities of the forgotten elite at welterweight, like Santiago Ponzinibbio. Another win in the division would make Pettis an undeniable logical contender from a box office and meritocratic perspective. The blurred lines of 155 and 170 pounds become even more apparent when considering the fact that the man who dethroned Pettis at UFC 185 will be facing another fellow lightweight standout in Kevin Lee as a welterweight in the coming weeks.
Should Pettis choose to return to lightweight, his options are even more plentiful. With the heavily rumored Conor McGregor-Donald Cerrone match having fallen through, the Irish superstar was left without an opponent for a return fight. A meeting between the two former 155-pound kings would be a dream from business standpoint. Fans would be eating bowls of Wheaties drenched in Proper 12 in anticipation of what would likely be a high-energy affair on the feet. Other fresh matchups or welcomed rematches await Pettis, as well. Should Dustin Poirier get his hand raised against Max Holloway at UFC 236, Pettis-Poirier would be appointment viewing. Similarly, the Cerrone-Al Iaquinta winner might be of interest. It isn’t too far-fetched to picture one more win or a late injury making a title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov a real possibility. No matter what “Showtime” decides is next, he has a golden opportunity to maximize what could prove to be a legacy-defining and profitable third act to his already impressive career.
THE BAD: TIME TO WONDER
After sawing through the welterweight ranks to earn a title shot, Thompson has not had an easy go of it. With only one win in his last five attempts, the future for “Wonderboy” has grown quite unclear at this point. During that time, his appearances have thrown a dark cloud over the fan-friendly style and aura of excitement that surrounded him. While his first meeting and draw with Tyron Woodley won “Fight of the Night” at UFC 205, the rematch at UFC 209 left a lot to be desired by many and damaged the memories of their previous encounter. His lone win -- a decision over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217 -- was buried underneath three title fights and the return of Georges St. Pierre, while his debatable loss to Darren Till was lackluster to say the least and did him no favors in the ever-present efforts to entertain the fanbase.
Meeting Pettis seemed like a great way to right the ship in multiple ways. Facing a smaller man with a reach disadvantage would allow “Wonderboy” to utilize his lanky frame for better results than he could against a large welterweight like Till. Additionally, the difference in power from a lightweight in theory wouldn’t pose the same threat as a heavy-handed Woodley, which would allow him more free room for aggression. Plus, with Pettis’ background in taekwondo, Thompson’s karate expertise could potentially be highlighted even more, leading to exciting results. Unfortunately for the South Carolina native, “Showtime” turned these on-paper advantages on their head with his second-round Superman punch off of the fence. The loss leaves Thompson in awkward place. Similar to Till at UFC Fight Night 147, Kamaru Usman taking the crown from Woodley opened up the division for the men who had been denied by “The Chosen One.” A win would have undoubtedly propelled Thompson back into contention. While being knocked out takes that hope away right now, he is even worse off than Till. At 36 years old, it becomes that much harder for “Wonderboy” to fight his way back up the ladder. While Till remains a work in progress with the potential for years of competition ahead, the clock is ticking for Thompson.
The questions surrounding Thompson’s durability will follow him into his next outing. While he managed to remain conscious after outclassing a power striker in Johny Hendricks, feeling Woodley’s full power, and experiencing Masvidal’s prowess, the idea that a much smaller man could score such a dramatic finish at his expense is worth contemplation. Is it possible that some of those strong shots he endured in the past -- keep in mind that he had long kickboxing career before he ever competed in MMA -- have taken their toll? Perhaps it was a momentary mental lapse that’s to blame. The shots you don’t see coming are usually the most destructive, and it’s difficult to anticipate Pettis’ creative attacks. Whatever the case, these are questions Thompson would rather not face.
THE UGLY: LOOKING UPSTREAM
There wasn’t much to dislike about UFC Fight Night 148. Aside from the rather uneventful John Makdessi-Jesus Pinedo fight, the action largely delivered. The event was well paced, as we can now expect from ESPN+. Unfortunately, the streaming service still has a long way to go before it provides a smooth experience for customers. Once again, the broadcast was plagued with frequent stops and time-syncing issues.
There were far too many instances of watching a takedown battle stall out against the fence to suddenly skip frames into one fighter on his or her back battling for positioning, too many occasions of a striking exchange in the middle of the floor skipping to a clinch on the cage. These errors made what seemed to be an entertaining bout between Jennifer Maia and Alexis Davis almost unwatchable.
With the recent announcement of ESPN+ becoming the exclusive home to the UFC’s pay-per-view content in the United States, this is particularly troubling. It’s frustrating enough to experience interruptions while watching a paid service. With a $5 price tag, it’s a bit more forgivable. However, with the $60 required for a PPV purchase, the service issues are unacceptable. This problem must be addressed before the added responsibility of numbered events are forced upon us.