Anthony Pettis took gold from Benson Henderson for a second time when he submitted the UFC lightweight champion at UFC 164 in August. The attention then turned to top contender TJ Grant.
Pettis and Grant were expected to meet at UFC on Fox 9, but Grant would not be ready in time to see action. Thus, the UFC went looking for another challenger for the new champion and they came up with Josh Thomson. The longtime veteran will try to capture UFC gold for the first time when they meet in December.
Thomson, a former Strikeforce lightweight champion, made a successful return to the UFC with a Knockout of the Night performance against Nate Diaz in April. He gets a shining opportunity thanks to injuries to others, and his dream of becoming the UFC champion has a real possibility of coming true.
The dynamic lightweights will meet on December 14, and this is your early breakdown for the UFC Lightweight Championship bout.
Pettis is one of the most fascinating strikers in MMA today.
He is fast, dynamic and vicious in his attacks. It makes him extremely fun to watch. His charismatic personality gives him all the potential to lead the lightweight division back to where it once was under B.J. Penn.
Thomson is a very good striker in his own right, and he is certainly not uncharismatic either. The lightweight division is in good hands with either fighter.
For all of Thomson's skills on the feet he falls just short of Pettis. The champion is one of the best strikers in the sport today. Both fighters mix it up on the feet, but with Pettis' complete package Thomson won't want to test him for the full 25.
The gap between them is not huge, but it is a distinct advantage for Pettis.
If you want to see who is the better grappler go back to Thomson's Strikeforce fight library and watch his bouts against Gilbert Melendez and Pat Healy.
Then watch Pettis against Clay Guida.
Pettis has good takedown defense, but it is not the best. It is ever improving, but against the elite wrestlers of the division he will still be at a disadvantage in the grappling category. That is because those wrestlers know how to mix in their strikes to make their shots more deceptive.
Thomson will have to disguise his takedowns well, and he'll have to do it time and again. While Pettis can be taken down, he is very hard to keep there. Pettis springs back to his feet easily and often.
Pettis and Thomson both have underrated submission attacks, but after UFC 164 Pettis' had a spotlight shone on his.
Their love of striking, and success at it, put their submission game on the back burner. But it has always been something each has in their arsenal.
Technique for technique they are virtually even. When looking to differentiate between the two you have to look at the caliber of opponents they have submitted. That is where Pettis gets the nod.
Thomson has a submission over tough fighters such as Pat Healy, but it came when he had worn him down. Pettis owns a couple triangle chokes, and most notably the recent armbar against Benson Henderson to capture the title.
Pettis has shown his ability to finish higher level competition and to do it when they are fresh. You have to like his ability to finish the fight more than Thomson at any given moment in the fight.
Pettis' X-Factor: Takedown Defense
Thomson will need to utilize his wrestling to win the UFC Lightweight Championship, and Pettis knows he will need to sure up his takedown defense.
It is not just about sprawling or his ability to fight for underhooks. Pettis will need to control spacing, use footwork and have a complete gameplan to negate Thomson's attacks.
Thomson is quick, and his striking allows him to make fast level changes inside to complete the takedowns. If Pettis controls the space he will make the shots more telegraphed. The more telegraphed, the more easily defended.
Thomson's X-Factor: Cardio
As I mentioned in the grappling slide, Thomson needs to repeatedly take Pettis down.
Pettis' ability to get back to his feet is incredible. It forces his opponents to have a never-ending gas tank. Thomson has to be able to go a strong 25 minutes with takedown after takedown in round after round. It is a daunting challenge.
Thomson has shown the ability to do just that in his trilogy with Melendez, but every fight is different.
Thomson will come in as a significant underdog one would imagine, but this fight is closer than a lot may think.
We can be prisoners of the moment, and Pettis' dominant victory over Henderson will cause many to put on the rose-colored glasses when looking at this fight. Pettis has faults, and Thomson can exploit them, so there may be a new champion in December.
But I just don't see it happening.
Thomson's wrestling will have to be very effective for him to take the gold, and I think Pettis' striking, movement and spacing will prevent Thomson from getting inside to have good looks for the takedown. Pettis will easily defend outside shots.
This will be a very fun fight, and could be the lightweight fight of the year. Time will tell, but Pettis will take this in a five-round battle.
Prediction: Pettis defeats Thomson by unanimous decision