Nearly 30 months ago, Anthony Pettis (pictured) was on top of the MMA world after submitting Benson Henderson in under one round to capture the UFC lightweight title.
A Reebok sponsorship soon followed. This was long before Reebok signed an exclusive six-year deal to become the UFC’s exclusive apparel provider.
Then of course, the Wheaties box. For an athlete, there’s really no higher honor. Pettis was dressed in a shirt and tie, wearing UFC gloves with the belt draped over his right shoulder.
Monster Headphones and Monster Energy also hopped on the “Showtime” bandwagon.
Pettis had three of the UFC’s biggest sponsors in his back pocket to go along with his Wheaties box. Superstardom seemed to be a given.
Immediately after Pettis became UFC royalty, 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.
“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.”
In his first title defense just four months later, Gilbert Melendez nearly derailed everything by tearing a page out of Clay Guida’s playbook. In Pettis’ UFC debut, Guida grounded Pettis’ aerial assault by grinding him time and again into the ground.
The UFC carefully picked Pettis’ next three opponents to ensure they built their star back up, feeding him strictly standup specialists. Goodbye Jeremy Stephens, Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone.
Henderson is a grinder like Guida, but if Pettis wanted a title, he had to prove he had an answer for the takedowns. A slick armbar submission promptly sealed the deal.
While Pettis manged to escape Melendez with another submission win, Melendez reminded everyone that Pettis hadn’t completely solved the Guida puzzle.
Rafael Dos Anjos was taking notes. The Brazilian went all Guida, with some Melendez, on Pettis last March to steal the lightweight title. The lopsided defeat was worse than what Pettis suffered to Guida, because Dos Anjos also punished him badly while on the ground.
Fast forward to Sunday where former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez employed the same Guida/Melendez/Dos Anjos strategy. The seemingly foolproof game plan worked perfectly, sending Pettis on a two-fight skid.
Pettis, who turns 29 at the end of the month, needs to improve his takedown defense, and fast, if he wants to end this free fall. The blueprints to beat him have been laid out, and everybody has a copy.