Anthony Pettis Will Return, Defend Belt December 6 vs. Gilbert Melendez

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterJuly 21, 2014

USA Today

Anthony Pettis will defend his UFC lightweight title December 6 against top contender Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181.

The fight will be Pettis' first title defense. For that matter, it's the first bout of any kind for "Showtime" since he won the belt from Benson Henderson last August at UFC 164.

Pettis broke the news Monday as a guest on The MMA Hour broadcast with host Ariel Helwani. 

"December 6 is going to be the date of my next fight; it'll be out here in Vegas," Pettis said. "I got word from the UFC...and I can't wait."

.@Showtimepettis tells @arielhelwani on #themmahour that he will be fighting on December 6th --

— Eric Jackman (@NewYorkRic) July 21, 2014

Pettis' next opponent was no secret, as he and Melendez are coaching against each other on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, which is currently filming. However, an exact date and time had not been revealed until Pettis did so Monday.

The champion said on the show that he is fully recovered from the knee injury that will have sidelined him for more than a year by the time he returns to UFC competition.

"I'm back to training," Pettis said. "I gave the injury the right amount of time off, and I'm ready to be back in the Octagon...It's hard to be out this long."

Pettis is one of the sport's most marketable stars, having recently been connected to major brands like Reebok and Wheaties.

And the hype is backed up by substance. Pettis (17-2) is the rare fighter who has been able to use a high-flying, almost acrobatic style to win at the highest levels of the sport. 

He is now 4-1 in the UFC and has not dropped a bout in the Octagon since his debut for the company in 2011. He lost that contest by decision to Clay Guida.

Pettis has defeated Henderson in two title bouts. The first came under the WEC banner, and the second happened last August.

Pettis also has UFC wins over Jeremy Stephens, Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon. In addition, he has previously been linked to a superfight with UFC featherweight belt-holder Jose Aldo.