UFC on FOX: Anthony Pettis Will Take Lightweight to New Heights

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2013

Aug 31, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA;  Anthony Pettis reacts after beating Benson Henderson (not pictured) to win the Lightweight Championship during the UFC-164 bout at BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how hard the UFC tried—and make no mistake, they did try—the lightweight division was never going to be a draw with Benson Henderson at the top of the pile.

A lack of finishes isn't going to appeal to the masses, and being credited with wins that most people feel were losses wasn't going to help the case either.

Smile, toothpick, and cool haircut aside, Benson Henderson was just not the man to make people care about 155 pounds.

You know who is? The guy who beat him twice, once featuring the craziest highlight in Zuffa history and once in so quick and aggressive a fashion that Henderson still might not even realize he lost his belt.

That man is Anthony Pettis.

Pettis is the young, fiery, driven, athletic champion that lightweight has been lacking since the days of Motivated BJ Penn (yes, caps for Motivated there; he's basically a different guy).

His first order of business after smashing his way to the title in his hometown? Calling out Jose Aldo, who hasn't lost in sixteen fights and hasn't been pushed in nearly as long, for a superfight.

If that doesn't suggest a man looking to make a splash, not much does.

It also doesn't hurt the case that he's a truly marketable star on a level with a young Georges St-Pierre.

He's exciting, which Georges once was.

He's respectful, which Georges has always been.

He looks more like a guy selling boxers on a billboard than a cagefighter, which Georges also does.

And he gets results, which Georges certainly does.

Granted, he's made some regrettable choices in the world of full-chest tattoos recently, but he's not even the first champion to do that. If that's the worst thing you can say about a guy, he's doing alright. Plus, that last guy ended up being pretty marketable in his own right.

While the argument could be made that Aldo is the most deserving of sub-170 recognition from the viewing public, he's hindered by a language barrier and his bookings in Brazil.

Same applies to Renan Barao, the interim champion at bantamweight.

Dominick Cruz, the true king of 135, hasn't fought in two years and has no return in sight. Hard to sell him at the moment, and not everyone loves his work even when he's active.

Demetrious Johnson, repeated free-television showcases notwithstanding, simply isn't for everyone. Joe Rogan can shout the word "technical" as often and as loudly as he wants, but that doesn't make a guy a draw.

Everything that Pettis is, that's what makes a draw. The UFC knows it, and that's why half of his fights in the promotion will have been on free TV by the time UFC on FOX touches down in December.

With the new champion getting his first chance to defend gold in an MMA hotbed and in front of a national audience, the upward trajectory of Pettis and his division is in full swing.