Anthony Pettis (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

UFC Fight Night 81: Make or Break Time For Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez

Both Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez enter their lightweight bout with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The fight is a pivotal fight for the future careers of both competitors in very different ways.

A win over Alvarez puts Pettis right back into title contention. Every chance Pettis, a fighter that has seen his career hampered by injuries more than any loss, gets to step in the Octagon seems to take on a magnitude of more than one fight. This may not be just his first fight of the year, but possibly his only fight of the year. He fought just once in 2015, once in 2014 and twice in 2013. Considering the one-sided affair of his loss to Rafael dos Anjos, it’s imperative for the Milwaukee native to make a lasting impression at the expense of Alvarez.

Pettis has always displayed the characteristics that define a superstar. He’s full of confidence, with the swagger of a champion and a highlight reel inside the cage. His nickname isn’t “Showtime” for nothing. Whenever Pettis fights, it’s must-see TV. Pettis was becoming one of the best pound-for-pound fighters after winning the UFC lightweight title at UFC 164. He had just shocked the world by making Benson Henderson tap to an armbar. No longer did fighters have to concern themselves only with his damaging kicks, but they now knew holding Pettis on the mat wouldn’t be an easy task either.


However, injuries and the dos Anjos loss have done much to hamper the aura of invincibility that once surrounded Pettis. He’s without a doubt still one of the best lightweights in the world, but a loss to Alvarez could send the former champion spiraling down the rankings. Alvarez isn’t a slouch by any means, so it wouldn’t be due to losing to less-than-stellar competition. Rather, it would be the result of back-to-back losses in a stacked division that just received an infusion of starpower in the form of Conor McGregor. Pettis is still in the prime of his career, so he’ll have some longevity as long as injuries don’t slow him down. But a consecutive loss would be a major roadblock for a fighter that’s overcome so much just to get to where he is.

Former Bellator champion Alvarez knows something about overcoming roadblocks. He became a big name among MMA fans while competing outside the UFC, losing only one fight during his Bellator tenure. His fights with Michael Chandler became instant classics, signature moments in a career that had seen Alvarez defeat some of the best fighters outside of the Zuffa umbrella. When Alvarez finally attempted to make the trek into the Octagon, a lengthy contract dispute played out in the court system and cost Alvarez precious time during his career. Alvarez sat out for nearly a year before stepping in to fight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 178. After dropping the fight to Cerrone, Alvarez rebounded by taking a split-decision win against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 188.

A win over Pettis would likely send Alvarez up to the top spot, in prime position for a title shot down the line. There are a few other variables, such as Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s impending return, but it’s hard to ignore the No. 4-ranked fighter beating the No. 1-ranked fighter in the division. It would also provide validation of Alvarez’s status as an elite lightweight. It sounds silly to say that considering his accomplishments, but fighters who achieve great things outside the Octagon are always criticized for not getting it done in the UFC. With a win over Pettis, Alvarez would show that he’s still in the running to add a UFC title to his stuffed trophy case.

However, a loss would almost certainly expel Alvarez from title contention for a considerable time. It would put him at 1-2 in the UFC, and while going 1-2 against top-10 competition is nothing to scoff at, fighters cannot afford mixed results in a weight class as tough as the UFC’s lightweight division. It may also, depending on how Alvarez losses, call into question the future of the former Bellator champion. Alvarez has proven to be extremely durable throughout his career. He’s taken a plethora of punishment. We’ve seen durable fighters make it through war after war inside the cage plenty of times, but when things do go south, they tend to fall apart quickly. Will the wars of attrition with Chandler and the punishment sustained in his UFC bouts start to become too much? Alvarez is the definition of a fighter, so don’t expect him to go quietly if he loses to Pettis either. It’s going to be a 15-minute battle to the end.

Both men find themselves in must-win situations heading into Sunday’s showdown. That tends to either lead to fighters being too cautious or overly aggressive. Considering who the two fighters are in this case, it’s easy to guess which way this one will go. Of course, it’s the fight game and at the end of the night, one man will find his hand raised while the other heads back to the drawing board. With so much on the line and both men at pivotal points in their careers, which fighter will rise and overcome the pressure?