Fifteen months after winning the UFC lightweight title by defeating Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis defended his belt for the first time at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas by submitting top contender Gilbert Melendez.
Melendez’ game plan was to pressure the champion and “test his chin as much as possible.” He did that from the sound of the opening bell.
He pressed forward and quickly looked to get the fight to the ground. Pettis worked his way back to his feet, but Melendez kept the pressure on. He peppered Pettis with short punches as he tried to slip around to take Pettis’ back. Pettis got free, but Melendez took him down again. Melendez kept the fight in close quarters, not allowing Pettis the space to work his dynamic striking game. Pettis landed a counter hook that backed Melendez up, but the opening round went to the challenger.
Melendez continued to pressure Pettis in the second frame. He stayed in Pettis’ face. They got into wild exchanges along the cage. Pettis landed a counter right hand that hurt Melendez. Melendez quickly shot for a takedown, but Pettis applied a guillotine choke. He pulled guard to tighten it down and Melendez was forced to tapped out.
“It’s been fifteen months, long layoff. I’m here. It was rough last year, but I reminded everyone who I am. I’m the champ for a reason, the king of the hardest division,” said Pettis following his first title defense.
“I’m only getting better. I had fifteen months off, but I’m working every day in the gym. This is what I love to do. This is my passion and I’m going to get better. I just turned 27-years-old. I have a long time in this game,” added the 155-pound champion.
While he was sidelined with injuries and filming the twentieth season of The Ultimate Fighter, other contenders have emerged in the lightweight division. Pettis became the first fighter to ever finish Melendez in Melendez’ 12-year career. He thinks it sent a message to the rest of the weight class.
“I just showed them a message right there. The number one guy in the world, two rounds,” he said.
It was the second time that Melendez, who has won titles in Strikeforce, the WEC and Shoot, came up short in UFC title fights.
“He’s a fast, slick youngster. He made me feel a little old today with his speed,” said the 32-year-old after the loss. “He knocked me pretty good and I just took an ugly shot. There was a lot of chaos in there and he capitalized. I’m a little disappointed that I got put out by a guillotine. Hats off to Anthony. This guy is a new breed out there. I thought I was on to the right game plan, but (expletive) happens.”
Melendez was effective with his game plan, but one mistake is all it takes to lose a fight at the elite level.
“I wish I went out getting knocked out rather than submitted. I thought things were going according to plan. One hit changed everything. One ugly shot right into a guillotine and you friggen lose a fight,” he said.
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