UFC brass will never admit it, but watching 5-1 odds-on favorite Anthony Pettis (pictured) lose his lightweight title to Rafael dos Anjos in landslide fashion at UFC 185 was a devastating hit to a company that has been desperately trying to crack the mainstream and is in dire need of superstars.
When Pettis initially captured the 155-pound crown by submitting Benson Henderson in August 2013, UFC president Dana White admitted Pettis had the “it factor.” Whatever “it” is, Pettis possessed it with his youth, good looks, charisma, and most importantly, flash inside the cage.
The 28-year-old talked the talk, walked the walk and appeared set for superstardom.
“If you get a guy and he fights like Anthony Pettis, and he looks like Anthony Pettis, and he dresses like Anthony Pettis, that doesn’t suck, either,” White said at the UFC 164 post-fight press conference. “When you got a guy who’s got the whole package, and that kid does, it’s not a bad thing.”
Pettis subsequently secured endorsement deals with Monster Products (go to their website right now and you’ll see Pettis’ face plastered on the homepage, but you better hurry), Wheaties (he’s on their cereal box donning the UFC title), Reebok (the UFC’s soon-to-be exclusive apparel company), Monster Energy (the UFC’s new energy drink provider) and Corn Nuts – essentially every major corporate sponsor the UFC works with.
With the assistance of these more globally recognizable brands, Pettis was going to help bolster the UFC’s awareness to a mainstream audience that has been reluctant to accept MMA for roughly two decades.
With Georges St-Pierre sitting nice and comfy in retirement and an aged Anderson Silva dealing with a performance-enhancing drug scandal, Pettis, along with light heavyweight king Jon Jones and bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey, represent the octagon’s next generation of stars that would finally break down the mainstream barrier and take the UFC to the next level.
Dos Anjos, who was supposed to be nothing more than an also-ran, thoroughly derailed that mainstream train Saturday. The Brazilian was the better man last night, dominating “Showtime” in every aspect of the game.
Dos Anjos now sits atop the mountain in the UFC’s deepest division. The only problem is, he’s no Pettis outside of the cage. Wheaties execs aren’t pounding on his door trying to pitch him a worldwide marketing strategy.
That’s the dilemma White now faces. As if trying to have lightweights sell a pay-per-view wasn’t hard enough, how will he hype Dos Anjos to the masses in order to pique interest and score buys?
In the meantime, White has more important things to deal with thanks to dos Anjos…
“My son Aiden is a huge Anthony Pettis fan,” White revealed on the UFC 185 post-fight show. “So I told him when the fight’s over, if Anthony wins, come up with me and we will put the belt on him. When [Pettis] didn’t win he didn’t want to go up. He’s crying back in the locker room right now.”
Aiden wasn’t the only one shedding tears last night.