Sunday's lightweight showdown between Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez wasn't a title fight, but it felt like one.
Alvarez captured the victory by split decision in a back-and-forth affair at UFC Fight Night 81 at TD Garden in Boston. Fox Sports UFC passed along the judges' decisions:
Official result: Eddie Alvarez def. Anthony Pettis by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) #UFCBoston— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) January 18, 2016
The loss marked the second straight defeat for Pettis, who was coming off a loss to Rafael dos Anjos in his last bout. As for Alvarez, he announced that he is back and a force to be reckoned with in dramatic fashion, considering this was only his second fight since a 2014 loss to Donald Cerrone.
Mike Bohn of USA Today called the result the "biggest win of Alvarez's career," while Shaheen Al-Shatti of MMAFighting.com shared the victor's quote in the aftermath: "I want the champion next. Give me the champion."
Alvarez, known for his impressive boxing skills, wasted little time establishing momentum with a takedown, as Al-Shatti pointed out:
Forty-five seconds in and already an easy takedown for Alvarez.— Shaheen Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) January 18, 2016
However, Pettis, known as a lethal kicker, bounced back with a handful of solid body blows, and Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports believed it was enough to capture the first round. MMAFighting.com also weighed in on the early action:
10-9 Pettis. Close round, though. Alvarez is trying to wear him down. Not sure if it’s working.— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) January 18, 2016
The UFC shared some highlights:
Pettis again launched some kicks in the second round, but Alvarez looked to pressure him and pin his opponent's back against the cage in the first few minutes. Alvarez was more active with his kicks during the second round and looked to match the strong Pettis in his own area of expertise.
It didn't work, though, and MMAFighting.com noted that Pettis was "finding his rhythm" during the second round. MMAFighting.com offered more analysis heading into the decisive round:
10-9 Pettis there. I have him up 20-18, but the first round was pretty close. Could be tied. Wish we had five rounds for this one.— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) January 18, 2016
Alvarez recognized the stakes in the third round and knew he had to counter the close start with a strong finish. He knocked Pettis on his back in the middle of the third round, as the UFC passed along:
Fox Sports UFC discussed the takedowns as well as the fight neared the finish: "Four takedowns so far for Eddie Alvarez. Will be curious how much that weighs on the judges."
The two exchanged blows in the final seconds, although Alvarez grinded on Pettis and took the fight to his opponent. Ultimately, the fight went the distance and fell into the judges' hands. Iole put the small margin into context:
It's going to the judges. I have it 29-28 Pettis, but the scores could be all over.— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) January 18, 2016
Naturally, the close fight was a split decision. Two judges scored it 29-28 for Alvarez, while the other gave Pettis the 29-28 edge, which gave the victory to Alvarez. Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com summarized the proceedings: "Wasn't pretty but Alvarez did exactly what he had to do to get that W. Credit to him for sticking to the game plan."
Those takedowns proved to be pivotal.
Post-Fight Reaction and What's Next?
Alvarez commented on his win, per Iole: “[Nothing he did was] too surprising. He's a former champion and so far [in the UFC], I've fought nothing but guys [who have been in] title fights. He's the last guy. He's a former champion and I want the champion next.”
Alvarez was surprised with the split decision, per Iole:
I don’t think it was split. I don’t know what went on there or who scored it for Pettis, but that guy must have been watching a different fight. I would’ve liked to have kept it standing a bit more just for myself. But the plan was to keep him up against the cage. He landed a few shots, but I didn’t feel any power from him and I was able to dominate the fight.
Alvarez was already looking ahead after the victory, per Al-Shatti: “I want the champion next. Give me the champion.”
Alvarez has a better chance of seeing a championship fight in the near future than Pettis.
Pettis has now lost two in a row and once again struggled with wrestling when Alvarez pinned him against the cage. Pettis never established much offense Sunday and paid the price as a result.
As for Alvarez’s title chances, Iole doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon, even with the momentum the fighter built Sunday with a second straight win:
Though they are two signficant notches on his belt, it's not going to get him a championship match soon.
Dos Anjos is going to defend his belt against featherweight champion Conor McGregor on March 5 at UFC 197. If dos Anjos wins, he wouldn't be ready to defend again until the late spring or early summer at the earliest. If McGregor wins, he's likely going to defend the featherweight belt at UFC 200 in July.
But either way, the win on Sunday was an important one for Alvarez and will set him up for yet another significant match.
As long as Alvarez continues to win those significant matches, the title shot will be a possibility.