Anthony Pettis successfully cut the featherweight line earlier this year, receiving a title shot in the 145-pound division without ever having actually fought there. Pettis suffered a knee injury during training, however, so he decided to return home to 155 and see if he couldn't just go straight to the front once again.
After being forced out of his UFC 163 bout with Jose Aldo, Pettis pleaded his case to face lightweight champ Benson Henderson at UFC 164 in statement issued to Fuel TV's post-UFC 161 show (h/t MMA Junkie).
"With all due respect to T.J. Grant, Milwaukee is my town, and the fight with Ben is the fight everyone has wanted for years," Pettis said.
When it then came out that Pettis wouldn't be ready for UFC 164 either, he explained his position to Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting:
TJ Grant earned his shot. I'm not going to say I should be fighting and TJ Grant didn't earn his shot. TJ Grant earned his shot, and he's there for a reason, I don't want the fans to think I'm trying to take his position or anything like that, but at the same time, you can't knock me for trying. I want a title shot so bad.
The whole "Grant deserves it, but I want it anyway" game apparently didn't sit too well with Grant, who recently expressed his disdain to Gareth A. Davies during an ESPN UFC podcast (h/t The Daily Telegraph):
I wish it was handled a little differently; him of all people, I think it was disrespectful, to do that against someone who has earned the right to fight is not right. Unfortunately he got hurt but it was low class, I thought. I didn't want to get into the whole talking thing. I got here legitimately and earned it. Ultimately, what he was saying was that he wanted my title shot which was incredibly disrespectful. It was pretty dirty.
Grant is currently riding a five-fight win streak that began when he dropped from welterweight to lightweight. Most recently he cemented his No. 1 contender status by knocking out perennial contender Gray Maynard in just two minutes and seven seconds during their UFC 160 bout.
It's hard too make a case against Grant as the division's most deserving challenger, and that position of strength gives the Canadian confidence.
"He's [Pettis is] out, I'm in," Grant said. "It's going to be a series of little battles in a big battle against Benson Henderson. He's the man, and I want to beat the man and be champion. It's what I've always wanted."
Now that Grant's well-earned position is no longer threatened to be usurped by the more popular Pettis, his title shot is assured, barring injury.
After that, however, a future tussle with Pettis himself might be in the cards. Should Grant capture the strap at UFC 164, Pettis may very well force his first defense. Should Grant lose at UFC 164, he'd make a fine opponent for Pettis to earn a title shot against.
The back-and-forth will only make such a match more appealing to the UFC, a promotion that gets giddy any time a fight can be classed as a "grudge match."