MMA: Donald Cerrone

Can happier Cerrone get over the hump?

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
11:02
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive

Donald Cerrone’s latest toy is called a Flyboard.

It basically looks like a jetpack/wakeboard hybrid connected to the back-end of a jet ski via long hoses. It can power a rider high into the air or deep underwater. Cerrone summarizes it by saying, “You ride around like Iron Man.”

Cerrone (23-6) describes the board during a phone call from inside his RV. At the time of the interview, he’s not sure exactly where in the United States he is, but knows he’s en route to Atlantic City, where he fights Jim Miller on Wednesday.

Loading into an RV and driving to a fight has become tradition for Cerrone, who says this is probably about the sixth time he’s done it.

On this trip, the group made a stop at the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour in St. Louis, Mo. While there, Cerrone’s girlfriend fell in love with Clydesdales -- which means, in the near future, Cerrone thinks he will be forced into owning a Clydesdale.

“She wants a damn Clydesdale,” he said. “We were at the Budweiser thing and she saw them. I have no idea what you do with a Clydesdale. Budweiser said they would give us one. It’s going to cost so much money.”

Between talk of expensive horses and Flyboards, Cerrone states something he’s said numerous times over the course of his career: He doesn’t care about winning a UFC title. He’d take it, of course, but he says it’s not what he fights for.
"

I think my feelings for the belt have always been the same. ... Having it would be cool, but that is not my drive

"

-- Donald Cerrone, on why title belts aren't his reason for fighting


“Who wants to ask stupid questions about fighting, let’s talk about this other stuff,” Cerrone said, half-jokingly. “I think my feelings for the belt have always been the same. I don’t really give a s---. Having it would be cool, but that is not my drive.”

Cerrone has never won a significant title in mixed martial arts. He came up short in three WEC championship fights from 2009 to 2010. He’s 10-3 in the UFC since 2011, but has never reached a UFC title fight.

If it never happens for Cerrone, he’ll still have a heck of a career to look back on. He is, without question, one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport and one of its best finishers. He’s won performance bonuses in each of his last three fights.

At the same time, though -- boy, it would be a bit of a shame to never see Cerrone at least step into the cage with a UFC title on the line. "Cowboy," 31, has flirted with greatness for years, but struggled with slow starts and ill-timed flat performances.

Leonard Garcia, Cerrone’s teammate at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, has spent a career watching Cerrone’s maddening inconsistency from the sidelines.

“There is nobody at Jackson’s -- I’m talking Jon Jones or any one who has walked through there, like a Georges St-Pierre -- who is as talented as ‘Cowboy,’” Garcia said.

“There have been times where I have literally lost the farm betting on him. You see a guy at Jackson’s who doesn’t lose a round in anything go out and lose to a guy he shouldn’t lose to. It’s just crazy to me.”

The key, everyone thinks, for Cerrone has finally been identified and it actually has to do with Clydesdales and Flyboards. Somewhere along the way, Cerrone, his team and his sports psychologists decided a happy "Cowboy" is a dangerous "Cowboy."

In contrast to Cerrone’s claims about lifelong lukewarm feelings towards a title, Garcia says there was a time when it was "all he talked about," and that at one point in his career he even had a place in mind to store a championship belt once he won it.

"He was all about getting a belt earlier in his career," Garcia said.

Regardless of which man's account is more accurate, they both agree that at this stage of his career, Cerrone has learned to treat fighting the same way he treats the rest of his life, which is to enjoy it.

“As far as now in my career, my mind is in a much better place,” Cerrone said. “There was a time where I was like, ‘Am I as good as these other guys?’ I doubted myself so bad. I’ll tell you though, if Jim Miller came to Jackson’s to spar, it’d be on.

“That’s the mentality I have now. I just think about going out there, kicking a-- and having fun.”

Win this week and Cerrone will be on a four-fight win streak and possibly one victory away from a UFC title shot. Lose; and his window of ever earning that opportunity continues to close.

Either way, he’ll remain one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. But a "Cowboy" title shot would be fun. And Cerrone’s all about fun.

While RdA soars, Cerrone skid continues

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
12:41
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive

That four-fight winning streak Rafael dos Anjos took into his lightweight fight Wednesday against Donald Cerrone was looked upon with some skepticism.

Just who had dos Anjos beaten en route to earning top-10 consideration, exactly? Mark Bocek, Evan Dunham, Anthony Njokuani: All are formidable mixed martial artists, but not contender-worthy at this time.

During that four-fight run, dos Anjos succeeded in raising a few eyebrows by demonstrating improved striking skills. His submission abilities have never come under scrutiny, and rightfully so. But he was facing a serious challenge in Cerrone, a top-10 lightweight with title aspirations still firmly in his mind.

To earn his way into contender status, dos Anjos had to beat Cerrone. That was something most observers did not expect him to do at UFC Fight Night 27’s co-main event in Indianapolis.

Dos Anjos would prove the skeptics wrong, and in a major way. He handled Cerrone, who began the bout ranked seventh among lightweights by ESPN.com, during the first two rounds, and in surprisingly easy fashion.

His attack was relentless, and his strikes -- both kicks and punches, especially the right hand -- had Cerrone on the defensive just seconds into the fight. By the third round, it was understood by all that Cerrone needed a finish to keep his title hopes afloat. But that never happened, as dos Anjos played a bit safe in the final round to secure a unanimous decision.
[+] EnlargeRafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone
Ross Dettman for ESPNRafael dos Anjos, left, utilized an array of kicks, punches and everything else to outpoint Donald Cerrone.

With his work against Cerrone complete, dos Anjos’ winning streak sits at five. The difference now: The validity of the streak is no longer questioned.

Defeating Cerrone in lopsided fashion puts dos Anjos on the lightweight contenders’ list. No doubt about it. Another 155-pound opponent awaits dos Anjos. He likely will enter that bout as the underdog as well, but expectations will be higher. And dos Anjos is prepared to meet them.

“This win over Cerrone is my fifth straight, so I’ve taken a big step forward in my career,” dos Anjos said after improving to 20-6. “Whenever the UFC thinks I’m ready for a title shot, I’d be honored to take it.”

Confidence is one thing dos Anjos isn’t lacking. A five-fight winning streak, including one over Cerrone, will do that for any lightweight.

Cerrone, on the other hand, has no excuse for his lackluster performance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He was adamant before the bout that a pending legal matter was not a distraction.

In every sense, Cerrone seemed prepared to leave the cage Wednesday night victorious. Dos Anjos was not supposed to be in his league -- on paper, at least.

But something just didn’t seem right with Cerrone. Maybe thoughts of that third-degree assault charge eventually weighed on him after all. Maybe it was those hard kicks and right hands -- especially that right hook to the jaw from dos Anjos that dropped Cerrone in the opening round.

Whatever the reason, Cerrone (20-6, with one no contest) must pick himself up, dust himself off and get back in the cage as soon as possible. He loves fighting regularly -- Wednesday’s bout was his third this year. And when he returns, Cerrone must get back to being that aggressive, hard striker fight fans have come to know and enjoy watching.

Cerrone is not completely out of the lightweight title hunt yet, but he is walking on thin ice. Two losses in three fights can’t be brushed off easily.

Harris: Top 10 moments in WEC history

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
12:06
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Miguel TorresJosh Hedges/Zuffa/UFC/WECMiguel Torres defended his bantamweight title at WEC 40 in a 2009 thriller against Takeya Mizugaki.
From World Extreme Cagefighting's launch in 2001 to its eventual merger with UFC in 2010, the WEC produced a number of memorable bouts, typically in the lower weight classes.

With a number of former WEC fighters competing Saturday at UFC 164 and one of its most infamous fights set to headline the card in Milwaukee, we took a look back at the best fights from the WEC's 10-year history through the eyes of founder and current UFC vice president of community relations Reed Harris.

So where exactly does the "Showtime kick" from Anthony Pettis rank among his favorite moments? Let's take a look back at Harris' top 10, including his personal memories of each one:

10. WEC 9: Olaf Alfonso SD John Polakowski, Jan. 16, 2004

Harris: Both guys broke their noses in the first 45 seconds of the fight. It was a war. In fact, [UFC president] Dana White was at the fight and HDNet was at the fight. And HDNet reported back to [channel owner] Mark Cuban, "We have to get this on our network." Polakowski took the fight on like two days. Really good striker but not very good on the ground. But Olaf was such a stud back then, he was like, "You know what? I'll stand with him." He just stood there for three rounds and they threw bombs.

9. WEC 29: Carlos Condit SUB1 Brock Larson, Aug. 5, 2007

Harris: It wasn't a fantastic fight, but what happened was Brock Larson was one of the strongest dudes I have ever seen. Like when that guy shook your hand, you were like, "Holy s---." He threw a punch at Condit, and Condit armbarred him, and it was so fast that I've never forgotten that moment. Larson was throwing bombs at him, he timed it perfectly and put that armbar on him and it was just, "Wow."

Henderson/Cerrone
Dave Mandel for Sherdog.comBenson Henderson won the first of two battles against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone by unanimous decision in an exciting 2009 tilt at WEC 43.
8. WEC 43: Ben Henderson UD Donald Cerrone, Oct. 10, 2009

Harris: A lot of my memories about "Cowboy" are tied to Charles ["Mask" Lewis, Tapout co-founder]. Charles had gone and seen Donald, and he came to me and begged me to sign him -- and Charles was a guy who if he asked you to do something, he would call you every day until you did it. I remember how proud Charles was of [Cerrone]. He loved him.

7. WEC 44: Jose Aldo TKO2 Mike Brown, Nov. 18, 2009

Harris: It was the kind of moment where I really knew how good [Aldo] was. I remember the first time he jumped out of the cage [after knocking out Rolando Perez at WEC 38], I ran him back and I had never yelled at a fighter before. Poor Andre [Pederneiras] was interpreting it and it was basically, "If you ever do that again, I'll cut you." His next fight he won, I walked into the cage and he was running towards the door. He looked at me and smiled, then sat down.

6. WEC 38 and WEC 51: Donald Cerrone vs. Jamie Varner, Jan. 25, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010

Harris: The fights between Varner and Cowboy [a technical-decision win for Varner followed by a unanimous-decision win for Cerrone] were epic. Those guys hated each other. There was so much going on behind the scenes. Biggest rivalry the WEC saw, by far. When Varner was fighting a year ago [in the UFC], he got sick, and I got a text from Donald saying something like, "You tell Varner to pull up his bootstraps and fight." I thought, "This is still going on and they haven't fought in [almost] two years."

5. WEC 53: Anthony Pettis UD Ben Henderson, Dec. 16, 2010

Harris: The fight itself was great, even without the kick. I'll tell you, when Pettis did that, I literally said, "What the hell just happened?" I didn't process it. I was watching live, and the angle I had wasn't good. I saw what happened, but I didn't know what he had done -- how he had gotten from where he was standing to all of a sudden, Ben was down. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen someone do in MMA.

4. WEC 34: Urijah Faber UD Jens Pulver, June 1, 2008

Harris: I think we did about 1.5 million viewers, which for a company like WEC -- it's hard to be in that UFC space and command viewers. It was kind of a passing of the torch for Jens. I saw a lot of respect between the two but also a determination with Faber, like he was going to get through this. And I remember him dominating.

[+] EnlargeJose Aldo and Urijah Faber
Jon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesJose Aldo's WEC featherweight title defense against Urijah Faber was an emotional ride for the future UFC champion.
3. WEC 48: Jose Aldo UD Urijah Faber, April 24, 2010

Harris: I remember [afterward] Faber being hurt. I gave him a hug and asked how he was. His leg was a mess. Aldo cried in the back. He was so emotional. It was like all the work he had done in his life -- that moment was life-changing to him. I remember when he was standing in that cage before the fight and "California Love" came on, Jose's look was like, "Wow. This guy's got a lot of fans."

2. WEC 40: Miguel Torres UD Takeya Mizugaki, April 5, 2009

Harris: It was such a war. I just remember how excited the crowd was and how brutal the fight was. There's nothing like seeing two guys in the dressing room who have given it everything they got. They had gone to battle. And when Miguel Torres was on, he really was like Anderson Silva. He had this aura about him.

1. WEC 48: Leonard Garcia SD Chan Sung Jung, April 24, 2010

Harris: To have those two guys step up and fight the way they did leading into our pay-per-view -- I know it completely bumped our numbers. Part of the story people don't know is after the fight, I went to the dressing rooms and "Korean Zombie" was crying because he really thought he had won the fight. I was able to tell him he won the fight of the night bonus, which was $65,000, and just the elation on his face was something I'll never forget.

Anthony Pettis: 'No more holding back'

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:07
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive

As lightweight champion Benson Henderson and top contender Anthony Pettis head into their showdown Saturday night at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, much attention has been paid to their 2010 WEC title bout.

The fight was as an action-filled, closely contested affair, highlighted by Pettis’ off-the-cage kick that floored Henderson in the fifth round. Pettis would win by unanimous decision, lifting the WEC 155-pound belt from Henderson. With images of that bout still fresh, it’s reasonable for fans to expect much of the same in the rematch.

While Henderson-Pettis II is a safe bet to deliver in the action department, the bout could look quite different than their initial encounter. One major difference is Pettis: He is a more aggressive fighter than the one Henderson faced nearly three years ago.

As hard as it is to believe, Pettis has evolved as a fighter in more ways than one. He is not just prepared to become lightweight champion again, but to hold the title for a very long time.

“My mindset is different; my experience, my striking, my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, everything is top-notch. My dieting, too,” Pettis told ESPN.com. “This [mixed martial arts] has become a lifestyle for me. When we first met, I was only 22 going on 23 years old. Now I’m 26 and I’ve made this my lifestyle. I’ve learned a lot and I’m way more experienced as a mixed martial artist. I’m definitely a whole different Anthony Pettis.

“There’s no more holding back for me. When I go out there, I’m letting loose. When I hold back, I’m thinking about the other fighter, what’s the game plan and what he’s trying to do and how I’m going to finish him.

“I just need go out there and be myself. When I’m being myself, I’m dangerous. And everybody knows it. That’s why I’ve done so well in my last two fights.”

Pettis put on a striking clinic against Joe Lauzon in February 2010 and against Donald Cerrone on Jan. 26. He finished both fighters by first-round knockout.

I beat him once already, so it wasn't my place to call for a rematch. Since he's the champ that's the key for me. I want to be the champion, so whoever has the belt at this time, and it happens to be Ben Henderson, that's who I'm going after.

-- Anthony Pettis, on fighting Benson Henderson for the second time.
In each of those fights, Pettis showed patience and great balance when delivering kicks that sent Lauzon and Cerrone to the canvas. He finished both downed opponent with punches.

While his striking was impressive, it’s what Pettis did before unleashing his offense that stands out: He controlled the distance. Pettis is athletic and light on his feet.

In the past, he would use that athletic ability to offset deficiencies in his game. But he has tightened up his technique and put his speed and power to better use. This has come in handy in the larger UFC cage, though Pettis doesn’t expect it to be a big advantage against Henderson.

“The WEC cage was about 5 feet shorter than the UFC cage,” Pettis said. “The more room for me, the better. I’m a rangy fighter, I like to fight at a range.

“But it plays well for both of us. Henderson is a rangy guy. He doesn’t like to be in exchanges much and he uses his footwork well to get out of situations.

“The bigger cage benefits both of us. But I’m not going to base my game plan off the size of the cage. I know what I have to do to win this fight.”

Whether in a WEC or UFC cage, where this rematch takes place doesn’t matter to Pettis; his No. 1 priority remains the same: to become lightweight champion again. And having to go through Henderson again to do it isn’t an issue.

For Henderson, the first fight remains fresh in his mind, especially with that now-famous kick repeatedly shown in prefight promos. But for Pettis, a rematch with Henderson was not on his to-do list until the UFC lightweight title changed hands on Feb. 26, 2012. That’s when Henderson unseated then-titleholder Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.

“Ben’s an amazing fighter; he’s the champ for a reason,” Pettis said. “But I never had my sights set on fighting Ben Henderson again. Once he won that belt, that’s when I said I want to fight him again.

“I beat him once already, so it wasn’t my place to call for a rematch. Since he’s the champ, that’s the key for me. I want to be the champion, so whoever has the belt at this time, and it happens to be Ben Henderson, that’s who I’m going after.”

Legal woes not distracting Cerrone

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
6:25
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
Donald Cerrone and K.J. NoonsAl Powers for ESPNBest foot forward: Donald Cerrone, left, hopes to bring his most complete form into Wednesday's fight with Rafael dos Anjos.

Backing away from a fight is not in Donald Cerrone’s DNA. Whether the fight is inside or outside of a cage, Cerrone is up to the task, giving everything he has and always expecting to walk away victorious.

Cerrone has a lightweight bout Wednesday night in Indianapolis against Rafael dos Anjos -- whose four-fight win streak has pushed his pro mark to 19-6 and earned him the No. 10-ranking among lightweights by UFC.com [he is unranked by ESPN.com]. With an improved striking game to sufficiently complement his submission skills, dos Anjos poses a stern test for any fighter at 155 pounds.

Everything these days seems to be working out just right for dos Anjos, even the timing of this fight with Cerrone, who will enter the bout with a legal matter hovering over his head. It would seem that if ever there was a time for Cerrone to be vulnerable, this would be it.

But things are not always quite what they seem. Cerrone is very aware of the third-degree assault charge -- stemming from an incident in June -- that he must face sometime after his UFC Fight Night 27 bout. He isn’t shying away from that situation and has cooperated fully with authorities, according to UFC officials.

The courtroom battle, however, is for a later day. Cerrone isn’t allowing his legal issue to interfere with the matter at hand: beating dos Anjos in order to strengthen his claim for a title shot. Nothing else matters to Cerrone at this time.

“I’m 100 percent devoted to this fight [with dos Anjos] and that’s it,” Cerrone told ESPN.com. “My mind is where it’s supposed to be, and the legal matter has nothing to do with it. I’m 100 percent ready, my camp was good, and I feel great.”

Cerrone is so determined not to allow anything or anyone to disrupt his focus that he refuses to discuss the legal case anymore. Besides, he doesn’t have any answers to give regarding it; his mind is set solely on ridding himself of dos Anjos.

My mind is where it's supposed to be, and the legal matter has nothing to do with it. I'm 100 percent ready, my camp was good and I feel great.

-- Donald Cerrone, on his mindset ahead of Wednesday's contest against Rafael dos Anjos

Interestingly, Cerrone doesn’t have much to say about dos Anjos either. Cerrone hasn’t paid much attention to his opponent since the fight was officially announced in June. Cerrone has spent the past two-plus months polishing his skills, preparing to manhandle whoever UFC planned to put in front of him. Dos Anjos just happens to be the guy.

“I don’t know much about the guy; I haven’t watched much video on him,” Cerrone said. “I know that he is aggressive and likes to come forward. I know that I’m 100 percent ready to throw down.”

Wednesday night’s fight will be the third this year for Cerrone. Staying active keeps Cerrone in rhythm and keeps dollar bills in his pocket -- “I like money, that’s why I fight so often. That’s the best answer I can give.” He fought five times in 2011, twice in 2012.

After stumbling out of the gate this year with a first-round knockout loss to Anthony Pettis, there is no room for error. If Cerrone, ranked seventh among lightweights by ESPN.com and sixth by UFC.com, is to make another serious run at the title, he must defeat dos Anjos.

Cerrone is seeking to win his second fight in a row. In his most recent bout, on May 25 at UFC 160, he defeated KJ Noons by unanimous decision. The victory improved Cerrone’s professional record to 20-5 with one no contest.

It was a win that served to further boost Cerrone’s confidence. He is convinced that a victory Wednesday night puts him solidly in the title conversations. And he strongly believes there is no one capable of preventing him from becoming UFC champion.

“This is the year that I feel I’m getting the belt. I don’t know who is in line, whether it’s TJ Grant or Josh Thomson. I don’t know who’s sitting in the slot,” Cerrone said. “But hopefully a win over dos Anjos will put me in line with them, and then a win over them will get me a title shot. That’s the overall game plan.”

When Cerrone is done taking care of dos Anjos, which he strongly expects to do, he will turn his attention to fighting that third-degree assault allegation. Cerrone is confident he also will leave that fight victorious.

Lightweight contenders and pretenders

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
7:19
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive


The UFC lightweight division is the deep end of the pool. It’s nondebatable.

According to the new ESPN.com rankings, a well-rounded talent like Jim Miller no longer cracks the Top 10. Same for Nate Diaz -- and he fought for the title six months ago. Athletic knockout artist Melvin Guillard is facing potential unemployment.

With as loaded as the division is, it’s pretty unbelievable Benson Henderson has already tied BJ Penn's record for all-time wins in a UFC lightweight title fight. Breaking that record in his next fight against TJ Grant is far from a given.

In 2011, I wrote a similar column to this, laying out the qualities it would take to beat Frankie Edgar. I ultimately said Henderson was the guy. I feel about 75 percent correct today. Edgar won that rematch, but you know. Spilled milk.

Question now is, who beats Henderson -- if anyone? Here are the lightweight contenders and pretenders, revisited.

The best of the rest: Mark Bocek, Guillard, Joe Lauzon, Miller, Ross Pearson.

These guys deserve to be in the conversation, but stars would really have to align for them to go all the way. Miller is terrific, but the evidence is there: When he runs into big, athletic lightweights he can’t push around, he struggles. I’d love to see him take his style to the featherweight division, which could use a mean, durable, bearded former lightweight willing to wear a farmer’s tan around. But Miller has long resisted the idea. We know Guillard is good for a handful of knockouts and an equal number of face palms Pearson could still develop, but he’s been beaten at his own game twice in his past five fights. Never a good sign.

That somebody that you used to know: Nate Diaz

Someone should probably stage an intervention for Diaz. Going back to his title fight against Henderson in December (not that long ago!), Diaz has tanked in back-to-back fights, talked about a return to welterweight (makes sense, given his vulnerability to bigger, stronger opponents) and been suspended for using a gay slur in a tweet (which he then said he wasn’t sorry about). How confident are you right now the Diazes aren’t at least thinking about a future WAR MMA card headlined by Nate? Not very, right?

The fantasy keeper league: Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos, Rustam Khabilov, Jorge Masvidal, Khabib Nurmagomedov

Every one of these guys is under 30 years old. Say you set up a fantasy keeper MMA league, where wins are worth one point and title wins are worth three. What order are you drafting these guys in? Tough call.

Barboza, Khabilov and Nurmagomedov are the Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson of the UFC lightweights. Of the three, there’s something I really like about Khabilov. Even without the first-round finishes, you can just tell this guy does everything well and he’s on opponents from start to finish. Barboza has made that weird jump from slightly overrated to underrated, thanks to a TKO loss to Jamie Varner. It seemed like everybody wanted to talk about this guy, despite the fact he barely, barely squeaked by Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson. Now, I don’t think we’re talking about him enough. It’s tough to pick a future champion in this very young group, but I like Khabilov’s chances the best, then probably Barboza.

The head case: Donald Cerrone

It’s possible nobody beats Cerrone when it comes to looking awesome in a win and then fairly terrible in a loss. Cerrone referenced a sports psychologist after his latest win over KJ Noons -- if you’re unaware, that’s been going on for a while now. When he’s on, he’s similar to other Greg Jackson fighters Jon Jones and Cub Swanson. He mixes it up, he reacts, he doesn’t think. Other times, it’s like he’s trying to solve for “x” out there and he seizes up.

At this point, I admit I’m skeptical of Cerrone ever holding the belt. He doesn’t fight particularly well in the big moments and quite frankly, he’s never been that guy who expresses a burning desire to be a champion anyway. Worth mentioning though, I thought he beat Henderson at WEC 43 in 2009. As far as controversial Henderson decisions go, that’s right up there.

The threats: Grant, Pat Healy, Gray Maynard, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson

These guys are somewhat close to a title shot (with the exemption of Maynard, but I’m not willing to count him out). Thomson is going to make a lot of noise. He’s not afraid to ask for things right now because at 34, his window at a title is smaller than it used to be. Melendez will be around. He’s well-rounded, consistent, mentally tough and we know he can go five rounds, let alone three. I like Grant a lot. He’s got the power to hurt Henderson and change the fight. As good as Healy is, and I like the welterweight-to-lightweight move right now, he’s not quite as good as Grant, so if Grant falls to Henderson, it’d be tough to pick Healy over him. Interesting that these are some of the bigger guys at 155. Did small ball pack up and leave with Edgar?

The future champ: Anthony Pettis

What just happened? Pettis had been waiting around for a title shot forever. For various reasons, mostly Edgar rematches, it never happened.

So in a move to speed up his title hopes, he called Dana White and asked to drop to 145. He fights Jose Aldo on Aug. 3. It’s possible (not official) Henderson will defend the lightweight title against Grant 14 days later in Boston on Aug. 17. So basically, Pettis agreed to drop to a weight class he’s never fought in to earn a title shot just two weeks sooner, and the UFC signed off on it. Seems like we all could have handled that better.

Anyway, win or lose, I don’t think Pettis is long for 145 pounds. He has always seen 155 as his division and he’s confident he has Henderson’s number. I’ve always believed Henderson’s claim he got caught up in the moment of the last WEC fight ever and strayed from his game plan against Pettis. I think that’s real. I just don’t think it matters. Even if Henderson goes into a rematch with a strategy more reliant on his size and pressure, Pettis beats him. Bold prediction time: Pettis is your UFC lightweight champion at some point in the next 12-18 months.

Postmortem: Grant rises, Silva slides, more

May, 28, 2013
5/28/13
6:52
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive

The thing about Mike Tyson was that everybody saw him coming. From the opening bell it felt as if his opponents were fighting from check, trying to avoid the savage exchange that would end, inevitably, in a violent checkmate. He was cageside for UFC 160, and to this day his celebrity transcends the fight game. When the MGM Grand flashed him on the screen, the place filled with that same old familiar apprehension and awe.

The thing about TJ Grant is, nobody saw him coming, apart from a few Nova Scotia residents and prelim connoisseurs. Grant came into his fight with Gray Maynard as a slight underdog. He had won four fights in a row at his new weight of 155 pounds, but in a standing-room only division of elites, he was a sort of fringe. When he crashed Matt Wiman’s momentum in January, the UFC saddled him with Gray Maynard, who had to drop out of a more profiled fight with Jim Miller because of a knee injury. In the interstices, things changed. Anthony Pettis volunteered for a fight with Jose Aldo at 145 pounds, Gilbert Melendez lost to Benson Henderson and Miller fought (and lost to) Pat Healy.

Somehow, Grant’s fight with Maynard became a conditional sort of No. 1 contender bout.

And did he ever make the most of it. Grant stood toe-to-toe with the hard-hitting Maynard, and ate a heater that made his ears ring. But then he got his in. He rocked Maynard with a shot that sent him reeling. As he reeled on the fence, Grant smelled blood on the water and slammed a knee into Maynard’s head. He then pursued him with a flurry of big shots that dropped Maynard for good. The win was emphatic enough for Dana White -- on the fence about whether Grant should get the shot or not, given his perpetual prelim residence of yore -- to put Grant’s odds of fighting for the lightweight belt next at “100 percent.”

You know who else liked it? Mike Tyson. There was something in Grant’s kill-switch that rang home for him. Though Junior dos Santos’ late spinning wheel-kick knockout of Mark Hunt went in for frills, Grant’s KO of Maynard was a blood-dimmed tide. So, when White got ready to award dos Santos with a bonus check for knockout of the night, Tyson inserted that it should go to Grant. And so it did.

And so the next title shot does.

FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Can things be different for Bigfoot this time?
Of course! He lasted a full 17 seconds longer with Velasquez the second time through, but once again the referee was prying Velasquez off of him while screaming “that’s enough already!” Silva didn’t agree with the stoppage, but at that point in the fight his resistances were down to nothing.

Can Hunt KO dos Santos?
He came awfully close to proving that he could, but could never square the follow-up shot to dos Santos’ chin. To his credit, he ate a couple of harrowing shots himself, and still managed to last into the final minute of a three-round fight with a crusher like “Cigano.”

Is there still wonder to Wonderboy?
Let’s put it this way, what Stephen Thompson did to Nah-Shon Burrell was passable, but it wasn’t spectacular. Yes, he whizzed a couple of kicks by Burrell’s head (and landed a couple, too), but it was more of a grind than anything. In our basic Wikipedia sense, though, a win’s a win.

Is Cain Velasquez the greatest heavyweight champ ever?
This question was posed before the fights somewhat purposefully prematurely. Though it can be asked with a little more timeliness now, the win over Silva realistically only proves that he can guard against complacency. If he works JdS over again, like he did last time? Gentleman, start you coronations!

Does KJ Noons belong in a fight with Donald Cerrone?
That was a licking that Noons took at the hands of Cerrone, yet he hung around long enough to hear the judge’s scorecards tell him what we already knew -- no, he didn’t belong in that fight with “Cowboy.”

FIVE NEW QUESTIONS

Ready for the big trilogy?
Junior dos Santos took Cain Velasquez’s belt back in 2011 with such an effective, tree-felling punch that it was almost unspectacular. Velasquez responded with a five-round battery to reclaim that belt. Now, with a couple of obstacles out of their way, it’s time for dos Santos/Velasquez III. Can you dig it?

Where does Hunt go from here?
There’s no shame in the way Mark Hunt lost. There was a moment in that first round where he had dos Santos staggered and was very close to cueing the knell with a couple of bombs that just missed. What now? Could roll out Hunt versus Josh Barnett or Hunt versus Antonio Silva or, eventually, Hunt versus Roy Nelson, and there’d be no complaints.

Teixeira as contender?
With his submission of James Te Huna, Glover Teixeira is now 4-0 in the UFC, and 19-0 going back to 2005. If that doesn’t scream “Geronimo!” in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, nothing will. But with the logjam right now, Teixeira -- no fool -- requested a fight with the winner of Rashad Evans/Dan Henderson next. Sounds good to us.

Can you see the Forrest, through the trees?
In the aftermath of UFC 160, Forrest Griffin announced his retirement, and Dana White announced that he and Stephan Bonnar -- the seminal figures who socked each other into our collective consciousness back in 2005 at the original TUF finale -- would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. (Slow clap).

Is Nurmagomedov the next big thing?
The idea of Khabib Nurmagomedov missing weight might have had Dana White hissing like Nosferatu in a beam of sunlight, but what a nihilistic thing he did to Abel Trujillo. Twenty-one takedowns is a company record. By this time next year, we might be talking about Nurmy as a threat to whoever’s holding that lightweight belt (hopefully challenging him at something other than a catchweight).

STOCK UP/STOCK DOWN
Cain Velasquez and Antonio SilvaAl Powers for ESPNAntonio Silva's stance as a top-tier heavyweight is under fire following a one-sided loss to Cain Velasquez.
UP
TJ Grant -- He may have looked like a woodwork contender before Maynard, but afterward he looks like a viable challenge to Benson Henderson. Nova Scotia did not shrink from the spotlight.

Donald Cerrone -- You know how you make people forget the time you got your liver kicked up through your diaphragm? By doing what Cerrone did to KJ Noons. Looks like Cowboy has another run in him.

Mike Pyle -- Before we start talking about 37-year-old Mike Pyle ossifying before our eyes, we might want to wait for the judge’s decision. Was it a generous scorecard in his split decision victory over Rick Story? Definitely. But that’s four in a row since losing to Rory MacDonald at UFC 133.

George Roop -- Got to hand it to Roop. He took his lumps early against Brian Bowles, but he’s resilient -- all 6-foot-1, buck-thirty-five of him is resilient.

DOWN
Antonio Silva -- When a loss is this one-sided (again), you begin to question the sincerity of the wins to get there. For instance, what happens if Travis Browne hadn’t been hurt, or if Alistair Overeem hadn’t been cocky?

Gray Maynard -- What a tough stretch for the “Bully.” He was 11-0-1 heading into 2011, but has since gone 1-2-1. The lone victory in that was the bizarre game of pursuit he played with Guida. For now, Maynard’s title aspirations took a bigger hit than anything specific Grant hit him with.

Brian Bowles -- It had been 18 months since we last saw Bowles, and the WEC champion looked good for that first round. Then the hatch opened up, and Roop was dropping wiry dispatches on him from Tucson.

MATCHES TO MAKE

For Silva -- A battle with Mark Hunt, or a cruel encounter with Josh Barnett.

For Teixeira -- Truthfully, if Dan Henderson gets by Rashad Evans at UFC 161, a Teixeira/Hendo fight might require fire marshals and riot units.

For Velasquez -- That third and most coveted bout with Junior dos Santos, and a chance to become the UFC’s greatest heavy.

For Donald Cerrone -- How fun would a scrap be between Cowboy and Gilbert Melendez?

For Khabib Nurmagomedov -- Think he could do what he did to Abel Trujillo against Gray Maynard? Only one way to find out.

UFC 160 primer: Return of the heavyweights

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
12:57
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Velasquez/SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesWill history repeat itself when heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Antonio Silva meet a second time?
Heavyweights are now a staple of Memorial Day weekend. Last year, UFC 146 was to be a heavyweight extravaganza like none we'd ever seen. The whole main card was heavyweights, so the word "unprecedented" was being thrown around pretty dramatically. And why not? The Octagon was going to be littered with dinosaur bones at the end of the night.

You remember the fallout before the fallout, though.

Junior dos Santos was scheduled to face Alistair Overeem -- the one man who could turn that gentle giant's smile into a look of constipation -- for the belt. Then the first domino fell: Overeem's test from his previous fight with Brock Lesnar came back with -- to put it gently -- spiked testosterone levels, which meant dos Santos was re-saddled with Frank Mir.

Cain Velasquez, who was supposed to fight Mir that night, was then given Antonio Silva. That meant Roy Nelson, who was supposed to take on "Bigfoot," ended up fighting Dave Herman. Mark Hunt, still for the most part a journeyman at this point, was supposed to fight Stefan Struve, yet didn't end up fighting at all because he got injured. So Struve fought Lavar Johnson -- if we're being generous enough to call what happened that night a "fight."

The players are (basically) the same a year later for UFC 160, yet perceptions are slightly different. Overeem again was supposed to appear on the heavyweight showcase, yet again against dos Santos. And once again, he was scotched from the card, this time due to an injury. That means Hunt, and his visa issues, rides an unlikely four-fight winning streak into a confrontation with dos Santos. The winner (likely) will get a shot at the heavyweight belt next.

As for the belt, it's back in the possession of Velasquez, who defends his title on Saturday night against a familiar name: Silva. The stakes are different this go-round, but the memory of Silva's blood covering the canvas floor at UFC 146 is still fresh. One might say too fresh.

And that's your mystery heading into UFC 160: Will history repeat itself? Which, when you think about it, opens up the broader query: Why is history repeating itself?

(Answers: Probably; and because history has a wicked sense of humor.)

FIVE STORYLINES


Woodwork contenders

What was a bottleneck situation at the top of the lightweight division is now a mile of open highway. The winner of Gray Maynard and TJ Grant will get the next shot at Benson Henderson's belt. We've seen Maynard in that penultimate spot before. But Grant? Talk about a quiet approach.

Hunt as Cinderella

Mark Hunt
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesMark Hunt's recent rise from journeyman to heavyweight title contender is something even Hollywood couldn't dream up.
Because you've heard about Hunt's improbable rise from the ashes a million times doesn't make it less amazing. To sum things up: He was inherited in the PRIDE deal, lost to Sean McCorkle in his UFC debut, was left for the scrap heap at 5-7 in MMA, and now is a fight away from a title shot. Hollywood couldn't dream up something this unrealistic.

Woodwork contenders II

With a relative dearth of 205-pound contenders to challenge Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira's name could go from being whispered in polite company to shouted from the mountaintops with an emphatic win over James Te-Huna. But let's take it a step further: Can you imagine if Te-Huna wins? Suddenly a second New Zealander is on your radar from UFC 160.

Return of Brian Bowles

"Where's Brian Bowles?" became MMA's game of "Where's Waldo?" in 2012. So where was he? Finding that drive, baby. Citing apathy as the reason he took some time away from the fight game, the one-time WEC bantamweight champion returns to face all 6-foot-1 and 135 pounds of George Roop.

Woodwork contenders III

Right now Khabib Nurmagomedov has one more victory in professional MMA than he does letters in his name (19 wins, 18 letters). If he beats Abel Trujillo, he'll be a sparkling 20-0. Nurmagomedov is tomorrow's bottleneck at the top of the 155-pound division.

FIVE QUESTIONS


Can things be different for Silva this time?

The more basic question: Can Silva compete this time against the relentlessly aggressive, forward-moving wrestler Velasquez who has cardio for days and a chin made of cinder block? It feels as if we're answering our own question.

Can Hunt KO dos Santos?

Dos Santos has never been knocked out. Knocking people out is what Hunt does. In a fight where the ground is designated for slips and one-way trips, a single punch from either guy ends the co-main. Can it be Hunt on the delivering end? (Smiles and shakes head approvingly.)

Is there still wonder to "Wonderboy"?
[+] EnlargeStephen Thompson and Dan Stittgen
Rod Mar for ESPN.comThe jury is still out as to whether we will see more of the Stephen Thompson who ended Dan Stittgen's night with one kick.

Remember when Stephen Thompson had that hot roulette player's moment after knocking out Dan Stittgen in his UFC debut with a head kick? Matt Brown brought him down to earth in a hurry in April 2012 with a one-sided decision. This bout with Nah-Shon Burrell will tell us if it's back to "Wonderboy" or if he's a "one-hit wonder."

Is Cain the greatest heavyweight champ ever?

Take away that glancing moment in the ballyhooed first bout with dos Santos -- a bout that Velasquez should never have been fighting in the first place (knee) -- and the answer is "yup." But what are we talking about? This is the ultimate proving ground, so we'll ask him for more proof. More proof!

Does KJ Noons belong in a fight with Donald Cerrone?

The short answer is no. The correct answer is LOL. Even if you omit the Ryan Couture fight (a loss that he actually won), Noons still lost three of his previous four fights. Cerrone is coming off of that Anthony Pettis incident where his liver got rearranged. In other words: Cerrone's the proverbial hornet's nest that Noons is walking into.

WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?


Robert Whittaker

He did beat Brad Scott in his UFC debut, but a loss to Colton Smith, just as the UFC is tightening its belt rosterwise, makes young shakers expendable. (However, if Robert Whittaker knocks out Smith like he did Luke Newman on "TUF: The Smashes"? Then it's "Watch out for the Aussie!").

Jeremy Stephens
[+] EnlargeJeremy Stephens
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesThe future of Jeremy Stephens' employment with the UFC likely comes down to whether he can snap a current three-fight losing streak on Saturday.

If the fact that he's opening the prelims portion of the card doesn't tip you off, the three-fight losing streak will. This move to 145 pounds is Stephens' "all-in" moment. Another loss and it's adios, "Lil' Heathen."

KJ Noons

It would feel a little merciless of the UFC to cut him, particularly because it'd be on the heels of a likely loss to Cerrone, but Noons needs a good showing to remind everyone of the guy who beat Nick Diaz in 2007. A fifth loss in six fights, though, is either a red flag or a white one, depending on how you squint.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE


Because Velasquez might as well dig his hooves in the mat before he charges at Silva as if Silva were a red cape ... because "Bigfoot" has fists the size of pet carriers, yet his gloves weigh 4 ounces, just like everybody else's ... because if you put dos Santos' and Hunt's combined knockouts on a highlight reel, it'd run longer than the average romantic comedy ... because Grant versus Maynard is dog-eared for fight of the night ... because "Cowboy" Cerrone is mad, and Noons, by stepping in with him, is saying "come hither" ... because Grant fights like Ulysses S. Grant ... because Te-Huna and Teixeira will require smelling salts ... because Dennis Bermudez was already in one fight of the year candidate (against Matt Grice) and Max Holloway is a gamer ... because Mike Pyle can make it four in a row against Rick Story ... because what could be more fun than watching Hunt try to stuff his foot into a glass slipper?

Notes and nuggets from Chicago

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
7:44
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive

CHICAGO -- Winning a UFC title is every fighter’s goal. For the few who are able to accomplish this feat, the celebration doesn’t truly begin until they make their first successful title defense.

UFC bantamweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson will attempt to solidify his position as a true champion Saturday night when he meets top contender John Dodson. The two will battle at United Center in Chicago.

In addition to defending his title, Johnson wants to put on an entertaining fight. Putting on a fan-friendly performance is something Johnson also relishes. And it’s something Johnson thought was being accomplished in September when he held off Joseph Benavidez to claim the 125-pound belt.

Johnson put on a stand-up fighting display. He demonstrated textbook footwork, head movement and striking en route to a split decision. But throughout the five-round title bout many fans in attendance at UFC 152 booed.

The booing continued when Johnson was declared the winner, and Johnson learned that being liked by fans is something he has no control over.

“You can never predict how fans will see you because there are some fans out there who just love my style: How I’m just a humble guy, but I have great technique, I have great footwork, the cardio, I have great confidence and I love video games,” Johnson told ESPN.com.

“On the other side of the board, there are guys who hate everything about me. They don’t care what I do, they hope I lose; they hate my ears, the way I look. So my job is to just go out there and perform the best I can.”

Teixeira seeks KO against Jackson



Not many fighters have entered the UFC with as much hype as Glover Teixeira. And in his first two Octagon appearances, Teixeira has not disappointed. On Saturday, he faces the stiffest test of his pro career, and fans will find out if the hype is warranted when Teixeira faces former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Teixeira believes he will defeat Jackson, who fights in the UFC for the last time Saturday. But he also believes victory won’t be enough to prevent his stock from tumbling if he struggles. So Teixeira is determined to end Jackson’s UFC career early.

“My motivation is to be a champion, just like he was. I’m hungry,” Teixeira told ESPN.com. “I want this. This is a big fight for me, the biggest of my career.

“Rampage is a tough guy, he’s hard to put away. But that is the key. You go into a fight, that’s why people love fights, because of the knockouts and the submissions. I’m going in there to finish the fight. And it does matter to me how I win.”

Cerrone to clash with sharper, more mature Pettis



It has been nearly one year since lightweight contender Anthony Pettis has fought inside the Octagon. That’s a long layoff for any fighter, except Pettis.

The former WEC champion says when he steps in the cage Saturday night to face Donald Cerrone, he will be as sharp as ever. Cage rust is never an issue for Pettis.

“I don’t think there is ring rust when it comes to fighting,” Pettis said. “A fight’s a fight. If I have to fight somebody tomorrow, I’ve got to be ready to fight.

“This is my job. This is what I’ve been training for; this is what I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve kind of grown up with fighting, so I don’t think ring rust is going to be a problem.”

Pettis is also better prepared to deal with any unexpected situations -- inside or outside the cage. He takes all his responsibilities much more seriously these days.

“I’ve matured a lot,” Pettis said. “I’ve got a daughter [1˝-year-old Aria] now; I’ve matured a lot with decisions outside of my training -- what time I go to bed, what I’m eating, what I’m putting in my body.

“I’ve really matured in every aspect of my life. I’ve just matured as a man.”

Quick hits



• Former lightweight contender Clay Guida makes his featherweight debut with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Despite what he says, the outcome of his June bout with Gray Maynard and the criticism that followed still sting. “My striking was pinpoint; I out-struck Gray. I out-grappled Gray,” Guida said. “Go down the list, I beat him everywhere, except in the judges’ eyes. But I’m beyond that now. And Hatsu Hioki is going to pay for it Saturday night.”

• Jackson talks often about no longer being happy in UFC and looks forward to leaving the promotion after Saturday night’s bout against Teixeira. But Jackson won’t be all smiles when it’s over. “I will miss a lot of things. I will miss Burt Watson backstage. He’s funny; he’s cool to hang around,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “Honestly, if you are on Dana’s good side, he’s one of the coolest guys. Lorenzo Fertitta’s always been cool with me; and Frank [Fertitta]. I will miss the good fans. When you’re walking back to the locker room, when you win, the fans are cheering you on. There are a lot of things about the UFC that I will miss.”

• Dana White would love to have Eddie Alvarez on the UFC roster. And he is willing to pay handsomely for Alvarez’s services. Now White is challenging Bellator to do the same. “This kid isn’t their world champion and his contract is up,” White told ESPN.com. “Everybody talks about Bellator like they’re some poor little company. Viacom owns Bellator! Bellator like you used to know it is over. Viacom sits on $5 billion in cash. Pay the kid! Pay the kid the exact monetary offer we made to him, and you will deserve the right to have him.”

Featherweights to take shape in Chicago

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
3:23
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
There's a paradox going on for this weekend's Chicago card: People are talking about the flyweights not getting talked about.

In fact, the ever-coveted "casual" viewer has no way of knowing that there is such a thing as the flyweight division, because all those prominent ads leading up -- as you've seen by now -- don’t fuss over the details. As far as casuals know, it's a "world title" fight, which is of course one way of putting it. (Saying that two of the best flyweights out of a 15-man roster might play out somewhat less dramatically).

But the flyweights are actual and they are happening, whether this offends you, surprises you, or speaks to your fetishes. And if nothing else, it's novel. If the sword on Brock Lesnar's chest cut him in two, you'd get Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson -- guys with thrice the speed and half the brute power. We'll need to slow down the surveillance tape, but these guys will square off at shutter speed on Saturday night as headliners.

It's Johnson's first title defense. It’s Dodson’s chance to showcase his own rare blend of levity and levitation.

If it goes as one suspects it might, this will feel like 25 minutes of hydroplaning. What's not to love?

Of course, such a main event only works on a uniquely stacked (totally free) card like UFC of FOX 6. There's Quinton Jackson's UFC swan song and Glover Teixeira's fashionably late arrival. There's the battle of Anthony Pettis-Donald Cerrone, which is a cause for hyperbole. That looks like the greatest fight of all time. (You see?)

And then there's the featherweights. And this is where the plot thickens.

Right now the 145-pound division below challenger Frankie Edgar and current champion Jose Aldo is a free-for-all.

It's about to get some clarity.

Clay Guida will take on Hatsu Hioki in his first drop to 145 pounds, and Ricardo Lamas will fight Erik Koch. One of these will emerge as the next challenge for the Aldo-Edgar winner. At the very least, one of these four guys will get to fight Chan Sung Jung to determine who gets next crack at the Aldo-Edgar winner.

Saturday will give us a featherweight pecking order.

Koch was scheduled to fight Aldo twice in 2012, but both fell through (once because he was injured, once because Aldo was). You'd have to think that a win over Lamas would land him right back to where he was. If Lamas defends his Chicago turf, he'll have beaten 2012's brightest contender, so he'd take that spot.

Guida is making the cut to 145 pounds after he ceded his lightweight title bearings against Gray Maynard. Not only that, but he had the audacity to show up with a stick and skedaddle game plan that left a bad taste in fan's mouths. A solid performance in his featherweight debut against the former No. 1 contender Hioki would jump him into the mix pretty quick. If Hioki knocks off Guida, same thing. He'll have beaten one of the UFC's more familiar names, and the recent Lamas loss shrinks in his rearview mirror.

Come Sunday morning, there will be such a thing as the "featherweight title picture." With all the comings and goings at 145 pounds since the division was introduced two years ago, that's been a hard thing to establish.

Pettis/Cerrone the subliminal main event

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
7:10
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive


Title shots are nice, but they’re hard to come by in the UFC’s lightweight division. Anthony Pettis knows. Since coming over as the reigning WEC champion a little more than two years ago, he has lived in a world of obstructions.

There was the Frankie Edgar bottleneck situation, when every title fight extended into a classic title series. There was the Clay Guida setback (which exposed some wrestling deficiencies) and the Jeremy Stephens rebound fight (which showed he fixed some wrestling deficiencies). There was the ridiculous head kick to Joe Lauzon, which re-revved the title talk. Then there was a shoulder injury that docked him for a year.

Buzz kill.

And even now, as Pettis returns for his bout with Donald Cerrone on Saturday in Chicago, his path to a title shot looks more like a frontage road detour. Defeat his fellow WEC alum Cerrone, and the reward is to wait and see. That’s because Strikeforce’s longtime champion Gilbert Melendez has been expedited into a title tilt with Benson Henderson, which takes place in April.

Melendez gets the immediate shot, and Pettis’ world remains complicated. It’s limbo. It’s contention. It’s relevance. It’s ring rust. It’s trying to re-establish his bearings.

“It’s weird right now,” Pettis told ESPN.com's MMA Live Extra. “I’ve been promised title shots; I’ve been guaranteed title shots. So really [beating Cerrone] doesn’t put me anywhere. I’m right at the top of the top. I’ve just got to keep my performances clean and sharp and strong and a title shot will come when it comes. But right now I’m just focusing on getting back in there. It’s almost been a year.”

Let’s face it, UFC on FOX 6 is a kind of layered phenomena. You’ve got a flyweight title fight at the top between Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson, which is electric but not suited to everyone’s tastes. That’s why Quinton Jackson is in the co-main. Jackson is making his final Octagon appearance (allegedly) against the intrigue of the light heavyweight division, Glover Teixeira. Wheelhouse brawl, right? Maybe. In any case, that fight should be sad, fierce and brutal.

And it’s not even the heart of the card.
[+] EnlargeAnthony Pettis
Kari Hubert/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesWin or lose, Anthony Pettis isn't sure what the future holds after Saturday.

The heart of the card is, of course, the one in the middle. Pettis-Cerrone is the fight. Pettis always brings it. Cerrone always brings it. If Pettis wants to stand and bang, Cerrone will oblige -- “Cowboy” never shrinks from the terms. And so long as Duke Roufus’ protégé Pettis isn’t fighting a determined wrestler, he recreates Chinese “wire fu.” That’s just what he does.

So even as the implications are up in the air, so will the kicks come fight night. And that’s just about as far as Pettis is willing to look.

“For me, man, it’s just to get back in there and mix it up,” he said. “It’s been almost a year since I fought and I want to stay relevant and show people that ‘Showtime’ has skills -- that I’ve got talent. Fighting a guy like Cowboy [Cerrone] is definitely going to give me that chance. He’s a tough, tough guy, and it’s not going to take one or two shots to drop him -- it’s going to take a couple.”

Cerrone, who has won eight of nine fights, is in contention, too. He called out Pettis because Pettis was the man in his way. Each fighter sees the other as an obstacle to reach what has become a far-off kingdom: that elusive chance at a title shot in the UFC’s lightweight division.

That could be what’s at stake. But when you’re dealing in the Pettises and Cerrones of the world, the journey is just as much fun as the destination. As far as Pettis’ ongoing journey goes, the future can be shaped by a simple objective come Saturday night.

“Make a statement,” he said. “I’m tired of not getting the respect I deserve. Guys calling me overrated, ‘one kick’ this and that. I’m in my position for a reason, and I’ve got to show everybody why I’m right there at the top.”

Pettis on Melendez news: It's not a shocker

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
6:33
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Anthony PettisJeff Sherwood/Sherdog.comAnthony Pettis will have to get past Donald Cerrone before he gets even a sniff of a title shot.

Well, don’t worry. Don’t worry. Anthony Pettis is not going to do what you all think he’s going to do -- which is just flip out.

No, when Pettis heard that the next UFC lightweight title shot is officially going to Gilbert Melendez, it didn’t faze him. After all, it’s not the first time he’s been overlooked.

“It is what it is,” Pettis told ESPN.com. “It’s not a shocker or some crazy new news to me. I’ve been here before.”

Several times, actually. Following a draw between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard at UFC 125 in January 2011, it was announced at the press conference that Pettis would still face Edgar in the next title bout as originally planned. But things changed.

Following Pettis' spectacular knockout over Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 in February, UFC president Dana White said he thought Pettis would be next in line. Didn’t happen.

Also in 2012, the UFC informed Pettis he was a front-runner to coach "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series opposite Donald Cerrone, so much so that Pettis assembled his coaching staff for the show. The contract, though, must have gotten lost in the mail.

Heading into 2013, there are no expectations from Pettis or his camp. There’s only what’s real and in front of him, which right now means a highly anticipated bout with Cerrone at a UFC on Fox event in Chicago on Jan. 26.

“One of our mottos is don’t be bitter, be better,” said Duke Roufus, Pettis’ head trainer. “You can’t control what happened yesterday. Just focus on what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
[+] EnlargePettis
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comAnthony Pettis has been pegged to fight for a UFC title before -- only for plans to change.

For the record, Pettis believes Melendez is a terrific lightweight. He believes the competition he’s faced in the last two years trumps anything Melendez saw as the Strikeforce champion, but whatever. Doesn’t matter. He's not complaining.

Pettis (15-2) knows he can’t be thinking about Melendez, current champion Ben Henderson or anyone else when he enters the cage later this month for the first time since the Lauzon win. He can’t afford it against a guy like Cerrone.

“I’ve never had a fight where I had to switch things up on the fly,” Pettis said. “I think you’re going to see the best Anthony Pettis in this because I’ve got an opponent who can push me and who, I believe, can stay in front of me the whole time.”

The possibility of trash talk loomed in this fight, as Cerrone (19-4) spent much of 2012 telling anyone who would listen Pettis was ducking him.

As the fight gets closer, though, the interviews have shown the genuine respect these two have for one another. You get the sense each knows this is a fight in which anything could happen. A title fight, minus the title.

“Donald Cerrone is one hell of a fighter,” Roufus said. “They are similar in styles but different in demeanor. As a fan of fighting, this should be the fight fans want to tune in and watch.

“No one can make a mistake. The guy who makes a mistake is the guy who loses this fight. This is going to be a very brutal chess match.”

There is not yet any guarantee the winner will go on to challenge for the 155-pound belt. Even if there was such a promise, Pettis likely wouldn’t believe it.

He’s heard the rumors that free agent Eddie Alvarez could get an immediate title shot if he joins the UFC, a move Pettis said would make “no sense” since Alvarez wasn’t even a champion at the end of his Bellator contract.

Regardless, Pettis only wants to get back to what originally put him in line to compete for the title in 2011. Just win fights.

“I figured out early in my career that things change,” Pettis said. “Until contracts are signed, you don’t have a title shot. I’m just excited to get back in the cage.”

Melendez the right choice for Henderson

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
6:24
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
It’s always a good problem to have two (or three) contenders with strong cases to fight for a belt. That’s the perpetual state of the UFC’s always-bountiful lightweight division. Ever since Frankie Edgar clogged the top with his battery of rematches -- BJ Penn, Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson -- the challengers have been consistently two and three deep.

To be a 155-pound contender, all you need to have is continued patience and awesomeness.

And that is the ongoing norm for Anthony Pettis, particularly now that it’s been confirmed that Benson Henderson is fighting reigning Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez on April 20 at UFC on Fox 7. Pettis’s own fight with Donald Cerrone on Jan. 26 in Chicago is all about the sliding stakes. It’s for understudy purposes; for the right to be next next. In essence, Pettis needs to beat Cerrone to continue his holding pattern. That’s not entirely ideal.

Here’s the thing, though: Pettis-Henderson II has a nice, long shelf life. The attraction of that rematch will hold.

The same’s not necessarily the case for Melendez, who has been ranked on pound-for-pound lists since Henderson was fighting Diego Saraiva in Evolution. Until now, he was unavailable to UFC challenges, and we’ve been pining for just such a scenario as this. Now, in a twist of organized fate, he gets his shot at the UFC belt in San Jose, where Melendez has always been right at home. Strikeforce was headquartered in San Jose, where it did burst the seams of “regional.” Melendez was a big reason the thing grew like it did.

Now he gets Henderson and a chance at the UFC strap, and the selling point boils down to one vital thing: curiosity.
[+] EnlargeGilbert Melendez
Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Getty ImagesWe'll find out soon enough if Strikeforce's best lightweight is also the best lightweight in the world.

Is he as good as we think he is? Melendez has won seven bouts in a row. He hasn't fought in anything other than title fights since 2008. All he does is beat the guy in front of him, even if you (or I) dub that guy a step down from the names he’d see in the UFC. Complaints towards the quality of his opposition don’t belong at his door. He’s always wanted to fight the best there is, even as he’s had to settle for the best available.

The bigger issue, though, is that Melendez only has this kind of unique timing on his side once. He’s coming to the UFC right when all the inter-promotional intrigue is still intriguing. If the UFC cuts a “champion versus champion” type promo for UFC on Fox 7 -- much like it attempted with Nick Diaz versus Georges St-Pierre for UFC 137 -- you’re catching these confluences at just the right time. Melendez, for so long sequestered in Strikeforce where he was dominant and under-challenged, against Henderson, who has lofty aims of one-upping whatever records Anderson Silva leaves behind.

If you stack Melendez against a Gray Maynard first, you run the risk of him being “Lombarded.” And if that seems like an exposure point to Melendez’s detractors, so be it. The truth is, the UFC operates on hype, in which strong hunches, one way or another, play as key of a role as documented fact.

For Henderson, it’s a title defense. For “El Nino,” this fight plays closer to justification.

Is Melendez the best lightweight going? That’s the question that makes him a polarizing figure for fans. He has apologists, and he has detractors, and he has haters. He has believers, too. Strong ones. Insistent ones. Is he as good as his believers say? There’s one way to find out.

And that happens, at long last, on April 20.

As for Pettis, he has history in his back pocket. If Pettis wins at UFC on FOX 6, the much-awaited rematch of WEC 53 looms in the shadows of UFC on Fox 7. There’s an active, deep-rooted vendetta in play for that bit of fence magic Pettis punctuated things with in the last fight with Henderson. He can be on hand in San Jose to challenge the winner.

In reality, nothing much changes other than Pettis -- presuming he beats Cerrone -- has three added months to let things play out. Three months isn’t that long for a guy so accustomed to waiting.

Cerrone tired of waiting for Pettis

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
5:41
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Donald CerroneRod Mar for ESPN.comCome on, man! Donald Cerrone is done waiting for Anthony Pettis to return to full strength.

LAS VEGAS -- Donald Cerrone still wants to fight Anthony Pettis, but after another blow to Pettis’ health was reported this week, ‘Cowboy’ might be done waiting for it to happen.

Pettis was hospitalized on Monday with a staph infection in his elbow. The Milwaukee-based fighter is hoping for a quick release, but the news jeopardizes a highly anticipated fight between he and Cerrone, expected to take place in January.

Cerrone admitted to ESPN.com he doesn’t believe Pettis is avoiding him, but after fighting only twice in 2012, the itch to simply get back in the cage is growing.

“We were supposed to go in Denver, no,” Cerrone said. “OK, we’ll be ready in December. No, now we’ll actually be ready in January. Now is it February, March? How long can you just (wait) -- I don’t know.

“I understand the guy is hurt, but I got bills to pay, too.”

A fight between the two lightweights is expected to determine the next No. 1 contender. Current champion Ben Henderson is scheduled to defend the belt against Nate Diaz at a UFC on Fox event on Dec. 8.

Due to his current standing in the division, Cerrone (19-4-1) might not be a guy the UFC wants to throw in against anyone -- as they did in 2011 when he fought five times.

While he’s willing to take any fight, even if it’s a welterweight matchup, it’s clear the promotion is looking at him as a potential champion.

“Joe (Silva’s) attitude is, ‘Why would you want to go from the top of the division to fight somebody in the middle and potentially risk everything,’” Cerrone said. “My management team says the same thing, ‘You should want the belt.’ I do want that belt.

“(The Pettis fight) is the No. 1 contendership. Of course it means something to me. That’s the ultimate goal is to get that title. That makes sense. Does waiting on him make sense? I don’t know.”

Cerrone had planned to start training camp on Nov. 1 in anticipation of a January fight. For now, he says he remains in limbo. His next step will be talk it over with his team and determine how long he’s willing to continue waiting.

“At this point, if they call me tomorrow and say, ‘We need you next week,’ I’ll be game,” he said. “I don’t know what the next step is.”

Anthony Pettis injured while training

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
7:24
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive

Lightweight contender Anthony Pettis sprained his shoulder while training, but the injury will not prevent a potential showdown with Donald Cerrone, a source close to the fighter told ESPN.com on Tuesday.

Pettis revealed earlier Tuesday that he suffered an injury but did not offer specifics. According to the source, Pettis will miss a few training session but expects to return to action by January.

His last UFC appearance occurred on Feb. 25 when he knocked out Joe Lauzon in the first round at UFC 144.

"Can't catch a break, injuries [stink]," Pettis said on Twitter.

Pettis and Cerrone have been involved in a war of words for several months. In August, Cerrone accused Pettis of ducking him.

"I've been trying to fight Anthony for a while now, and every time I suggest it, his manager comes back and says, 'Well, we're not ready. Maybe we'll fight somebody else right now,'" Cerrone said. "There's always an excuse. He wants to just sit and hide behind his win over Ben Henderson and keep riding that gravy train. But there are fighters who want to fight him and prove that he's all talk.

"Pettis was saying 'My shoulder won't be ready until October.' I told him I'd sit and wait until December for him, but Melvin stepped up and took the fight."

Pettis' trainer Duke Roufus denied that his fighter was ducking anyone and would be willing to face Cerrone when he fully heals.

Roufus told ESPN.com in August that Pettis competed with a serious shoulder injury in each of his two most recent fights. Team Pettis has not yet revealed which shoulder the fighter injured.

"He did get the shoulder surgery and is hoping to get on the Nov. 17 card," Roufus said.

UFC 154 is scheduled for Nov. 17 in Montreal, and neither Pettis nor Cerrone is slated to compete on the card.

While it remains unknown when Pettis and Cerrone will get to settle their differences, UFC president Dana White stated after UFC 150 that he will offer the fighters an opportunity to meet in a title eliminator.

Pettis made a name for himself in December 2010 when he defeated Henderson to claim the WEC lightweight title. Henderson is currently the UFC 155-pound champion.

SPONSORED HEADLINES