Whenever a fan gets to see two exceptional fighters paired against each other, such as Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo, the mind races.
Such standoffs bring many questions to light, mainly because the margin of error for both fighters is razor thin. Advantages that were normally a given are now uncertain, and areas of weakness—no matter how small—can be the undoing of so much greatness.
When fighters that good meet, nothing but their very best will suffice.
As fans, to ponder the uncertain with a critical eye is a natural thing. It is in our nature to try and quantify everything—to predict the future based on the history of the fighters involved. If faith is a belief in the unseen, then prognostication is a prediction based on a faith that comes from history seen, time and again.
And in the case of Pettis and Aldo, the history shows them to be a monsters when they are in top form.
This fight looks to be the most rigorous test each man has had to date. For every person that declares Aldo will win, you can find another who advocates for Pettis.
And so, as is our custom as fans, we ponder and theorize to the best of our ability toward the end of predicting who has the advantage—and more importantly, where.
Of course, the result of this fight will probably not be decided by numerical superiority granted from some list. Fighters are not the sum total of their greater or lesser parts because no two fights are the same.
And this fight promises to be quite unlike any other.
Here’s a head-to-toe breakdown of Anthony Pettis vs. Jose Aldo.
Should Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo actually arrive in the cage healthy and injury free, it tends to reason that Pettis will be the stronger man.
By how much is uncertain.
He is a natural lightweight who enjoys a size advantage, and his functional strength has allowed him to hold his own against a very powerful man in Benson Henderson.
None of this is to say Aldo will not be strong enough to contend with Pettis. Aldo has enough power that, when coupled with his speed and athleticism, allows him to push and pull as he likes.
But if both men get into a position of power versus power, the bigger Pettis should have the advantage.
Given that both men are primarily strikers who utilize submissions rather than classic MMA-style wrestling when the fight hits the floor, this area is fairly equal.
Some might say that Aldo should have the advantage because he’s never really been wrestled out of a decision like Pettis was against Clay Guida; ergo, Aldo must be a better wrestler.
That is really nothing more than an assumption, and in truth we really don’t know who the better wrestler is. There is not enough evidence to support a claim for superiority for either man, save perhaps for their training partners, which honestly isn’t enough.
As always, when considering one of the biggest areas of contention in a fight, the past cannot be ignored.
On paper, Aldo has won more fights via KO/TKO and at a higher percentage.
With that out of the way, we can dig a little deeper and in doing so discover that this is much closer than many may think.
Both men are excellent strikers who don’t need to “force” anything. Their strikes come naturally, based upon openings that most don’t recognize. Aldo and Pettis know how to seize those moments.
Both fighters utilize a lot of movement and can glide out of trouble with minimal effort—not to mention their skills at cutting off the ring are high.
They also seem about as comfortable as a fighter can when their back is against the cage. They keep their eyes open and their defense tight, slipping through the smallest of cracks to get back to the center.
Also, they are very accurate. When they see even the smallest opening, they can nail the coffin shut with a single shot.
Aldo is a striker who is fueled by his physical gifts: speed, power and balance. He has acceptable boxing skills that are framed within a semi-classic muay thai stronghold. It is from here that he utilizes his greatest strengths: punishing leg kicks and powerful knees.
His leg kicks are brutal, and he doesn’t always need a set up to land them; he can fire that right leg nearly out of the blue, minus the lead-up that comes with his running leg kicks.
Of course, he is also excellent with a certain number of combinations that attack the body with punches and the legs with kicks. In addition, from the jab he can land a hard right uppercut or a high left knee to the chin with shocking success.
Pettis, for his part, is dynamic in unconventional ways; be it a running kick or knee off the fence or capoeira-style attacks, he is unpredictable. He’s also excellent at getting his man against the cage, where space is limited.
He’s patient when you’d least expect it, has very good hands and knows how to set a fighter up for a hard shot—especially with kicks to the body or head.
Where the fight becomes interesting is in their weaknesses.
One of Aldo’s only shortcomings is his boxing. He has a tendency to lean forward while overcommitting to jabs or right hands, or he doesn’t throw them with enough conviction, leaving him open on both counts to hard straights.
This could spell disaster for him against Pettis, who has excellent hands and can counter very well. In addition, the lightweight champ is not apt to be caught unaware by the uppercut or high knee that follows Aldo’s jabs, which gives him opportunity to counter again.
For Pettis, his area of concern is that given his style of movement, he leaves a leg behind to be kicked more often than not.
Henderson was surprisingly successful at kicking the legs of Pettis in their first fight. Pettis’ tendency to back up from punches leaves him open to leg kicks; given that Aldo is just about the best in the business at chopping a fighter's legs out from under him, this could spell trouble for Pettis.
Each man is strong where the other is weak, both men are strong over all, and neither man is really going to get caught standing still.
Can Aldo blast the legs of Pettis early and often enough to make the fight easy? Can Pettis use his cage generalship to box Aldo in and counter his lesser boxing for the knockout? Will either man catch the other unaware and thread that split-second needle with a KO shot?
With fighters this good, it’s so hard to say, but I think the leg kicks of Aldo will be the difference.
Edge: Aldo (slight)
Obviously, Jose Aldo is good on the ground. He is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and trains at an excellent camp.
That said, Anthony Pettis holds the advantage, at least on paper. Aldo has exactly one victory via true submission on his record, thanks to an arm-triangle choke. Pettis has four victories on his record by actual submission, including his most recent: an armbar victory over Benson Henderson.
Perhaps it is just the difference in their styles that leads Aldo to bypass submission attempts in order to get the KO/TKO; then again, perhaps not.
One thing we do know for sure: Pettis is good enough on the ground to go for submissions with conviction and get them, especially when the title is on the line.
Both Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo possess one-shot fight-ending power; be it a kick to the liver or a jumping double-knee to the face, either man can close the show in an instant.
It’s rare that two fighters are so evenly matched in this area, but when it comes to KO power, both seem cut from the same cloth.
And when one considers just how expertly both deliver that power, both men are in danger of being knocked out at all times.
As neither Anthony Pettis nor Jose Aldo has been knocked out—cleanly or technically—it is hard to speculate who has the superior chin.
It becomes even harder as neither man has been hit with the kind of power shot required to provide such a test. Both men are good at avoiding such blows or rolling with them, leaving us with little to go on.
But Aldo is moving up in weight to face a legitimate 155-pound fighter in Pettis, so that could see the latter capable of absorbing shots better in this weight class.
In the end, we just don’t have enough information to properly predict who is going to withstand true punishment better.
For perhaps the first time ever, we may get to see Jose Aldo fight free of the constraints that a weight cut can impose. But will it be enough against Anthony Pettis?
In terms of conditioning, both men have fought hard for five full rounds before, although Aldo has done it more often. Based on this fact alone, it would tend to reason that he should hold the advantage.
But Aldo has looked tired before, especially in his bout against Mark Hominick, where he seemed to be simply existing in the final frame. Pettis, for his part, has never shown that level of fatigue.
While Aldo’s shortcoming in conditioning in that fight could have been due to illness and a hard weight cut, he will now see his conditioning taxed due to fighting a larger fighter who knows how to push the pace.
Honestly, I think both men will be in great shape and capable of going hard for all five rounds. But on paper, due to the Hominick fight, the advantage belongs to Pettis—but just slightly.
Edge: Pettis (slight)
It is important to note from the beginning that Anthony Pettis is not a slow, ponderous fighter. He moves quickly and cleanly, and his strikes are faster than most.
All of that said, Jose Aldo is a faster fighter by far.
Everything he does is fast—even his smaller movements, like feints and subtle switches in direction.
His kicks come with a speed that is hard to defend (especially his leg kicks), his fists are fast, and his reaction time has always given him an incredible advantage. If that weren't enough, once Aldo hurts his opponent, his speed is overwhelming.
If Pettis is going to win, he'll have to counter the speed of Aldo.
Not only does Jose Aldo have more fights than Anthony Pettis, but he’s undefeated in nine title fights with the WEC and the UFC.
Pettis will come in as the defending UFC lightweight champion, but aside from his time as the lightweight champion in the Gladiators Fighting series, he is now poised to make his first-ever successful title defense.
On the biggest stage and with the greatest stakes, Aldo has far more experience. He’s been there and done it many times, and he’s done it better than anyone else in the lighter divisions.
Although the advantage is slight, Anthony Pettis does seem to time his shots—especially the fight-changing blows—incredibly well.
Whereas Jose Aldo tends to overwhelm his opponents with flurries of movement and attacks when the fight is upright, Pettis is a calculating fighter who works to set his opponent up for hard shots. He’s patient when he needs to be, moving here and there to lure opponents out of defensive stances, and when the opening presents itself, his timing in the delivery of the shot is excellent.
Aldo has very good timing as well—better than most, in fact—but much of this is based on countering takedown attempts. He’s excellent at timing knees as a counter to a takedown attempt, and the timing of his leg kicks is sublime.
Given that takedown attempts off a shot are going to be few to none in this fight, Pettis’ timing is apt to be more prevalent.
Edge: Pettis (slight)
In the battle for control of the distance, Anthony Pettis not only enjoys a reach advantage but also uses distance to his advantage more effectively than Jose Aldo.
Aldo employs a good command of distance with his kicks, but at most other times, unless he is charging in behind a flurry of strikes, he relies on his speed and reflexes to carry him forward to press an advantage or exit out of harm's way.
In fact, his kicks are the only real bridge he has for controlling the distance. The rest is based on darting in and out or standing in harm's way, depending on his quickness to counter or evade.
Pettis can also use his kicks to the same advantage as Aldo for gauging and controlling distance, but in tighter quarters, he can use his hands to the same effect. In fact, in many ways, Aldo avoids distance or rushes through it, while Pettis negotiates with it to maximum advantage.
How both men deal with this area of the fight, which will be in constant flux, remains to be seen. But on paper, the slight advantage belongs to the lightweight champion.
Edge: Pettis (slight)
Much as with experience, Jose Aldo is apt to have the psychological advantage over Anthony Pettis.
It's not that Pettis doesn’t believe he can win, because he surely does. He's a hungry young champion who wants to fight the best in the world, and that comes from no small amount of confidence.
But when things get complicated and the going gets rough, no matter how well he is doing, he’s going to know he could still lose it all in the blink of an eye.
Anytime a fighter is facing an opponent with a speed advantage, the situation is tense. But when said opponent is as accurate, experienced and cunning as Aldo, “tense” is an understatement.
The fact that Pettis might not see the telling shots coming is going to be a big mental hurdle to overcome, especially if Aldo develops any kind of a lead.
Edge: Aldo (slight)
As good as Anthony Pettis is, the speed and experience of Jose Aldo look to be two very large advantages in this fight.
Pettis could catch Aldo with a counter and take him out if the featherweight gets too aggressive with his hands. However, it seems probable that Aldo's speed is going to see him score with hard leg kicks early, reducing Pettis to a stationary target as the minutes pass. This will eventually open up opportunities for Aldo to flurry, both high and low.
Pettis will score some good shots, bloodying Aldo here and there. But in the end, Aldo will score first with the meaningful strikes while avoiding return fire, eventually earning the TKO.
Prediction: Jose Aldo by TKO, Round 4