Saturday's UFC 144 broadcast features a modern record of seven scheduled fights on the Pay Per View portion of the card. While most of the bouts on the main card feature Japanese fighters or combatants who made their name in the PRIDE FC organization, the card is bookended by a pair of lightweight scraps with no ties to Japan, but which promise nothing if not high-intensity action. Kicking off the card is a bout between Anthony Pettis and Joe Lauzon which, along with the night's main event and a May bout between Jim Miller and Nate Diaz, will likely decide the next UFC lightweight title fight.
Lauzon emerged on the scene with a splash as he was plucked from obscurity to take on former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver in Pulver's return to the UFC. Expected to be an easy re-entry bout for Pulver, Lauzon stunned fans by taking less than a minute to knock Pulver out. From there Lauzon moved on to The Ultimate Fighter 5 cast where he was a season favorite, only to fall in the semifinals to Manny Gamburyan. Since the show, Lauzon has maintained an exciting fighting style which has made him a fan favorite.
Lauzon's past six fights have ended with the Massachusetts native leaving with some extra of-the-night change in his pocket, either in the form of a fight bonus for a loss or a submission bonus for a win. After submitting Jeremy Stephens with an armbar as the main event of UFC Fight Night 17 Lauzon was out of the Octagon for nearly a year with a knee injury. After a strong start in his return bout, Lauzon wilted late in losing a decision to Sam Stout. After thrashing Gabe Ruediger with another armbar, Lauzon again fell after a strong start, this time by TKO to George Sotiropoulos. Another quick win over Curt Warburton earned a shot against Melvin Guillard where Lauzon was a heavy underdog, but Lauzon dropped Guillard early and quickly took the back of the favorite and sunk in a fight-ending rear naked choke.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Lauzon's bread and butter is his grappling game and the pace with which he brings it early in a fight. Lauzon has a go-go-go style on the mat, constantly working to improve his position, rain down damage to soften up defenses or latch on a submission, which he then chains effortlessly until opponents are overwhelmed and succumb. While he is not the most technical striker, he fights with a similar high pace early, and as shown against Guillard and Pulver, Lauzon packs some power when he lands. Unfortunately for Lauzon, his fast pace is also his biggest weakness. In the past three years, Lauzon is 4-0 in fights lasting 2:01 or less, and just 1-3 in fights extending beyond the 2:01 mark, with a similar pattern in all three defeats of Lauzon taking the early stages of the fight, only to tire out and be battered for the remainder of the bout.
Lauzon goes off as a bigger underdog on MMA Playground's betting game than in any major online book, and at +235 is an appealing option as a straight play who is not wrongly an underdog, but is still undervalued and as such worth a look. For straight picking there is also an added appeal that, if Lauzon is to win, you can be fairly confident of the method. His strength in submissions and weakness in cardio means that if you hit on the 5 points for picking the right fighter, there's a good chance you will get at least a bonus 3 for either round or method, and likely the full 11 point score for a perfect selection. In eight wins, picking Lauzon by round one submission would be good for at least 8 points in all but one bout, and hit a full bingo four times for 73 of a possible 88 points (83-percent of possible points.)
Anthony Pettis analysis after the jump.
Pettis is the former WEC lightweight champion, and was expected to unify the lightweight belts after the merger only to be done in by poor luck and a deficiency in takedown defense. Like Lauzon, Pettis is known for putting on exciting bouts, and as the only man to defeat title challenger Ben Henderson under the Zuffa banner, a win coupled with a Benson victory in the main event and Pettis could be in line for a rematch with the UFC gold on the line this time.
Pettis earned his shot at the WEC belt by putting together three straight wins after a split decision defeat to Bart Palaszewski, stopping Danny Castillo, Alex Karalexis and Shane Roller in the first, second and third rounds, respectively. The title fight was closely contested and with the minutes winding down, Pettis landed the famous "Showtime Kick" by springing off the cage and delivering a head kick with the same leg, dropping Henderson. While Henderson recovered, it was enough to cement the round, and fight, for Pettis. The win was to earn a shot at the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II, but when the fight ended in a draw, then the rematch was delayed by injuries to both men, Pettis took on Clay Guida instead, ending up on the wrong side of a takedown clinic. Pettis struggled at times in his follow up with Jeremy Stephens, but was ultimately able to do enough to earn the split decision.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Pettis fights under Duke Roufus and has the dangerous stand up to go with such a pedigree. In addition to throwing strikes which are both fast and accurate, as Pettis showed against Henderson he is capable of throwing unique strikes that his opponents simply do not see coming. On the ground Pettis has an offensive guard where he is comfortable attempting chains of submissions in an attempt to earn the submission off of his back. Unfortunately for Pettis, Guida showed that if an opponent is able to resist the submissions, that Pettis struggles to remain on his feet against a good wrestler, which can be a liability against a fighter like Lauzon who has the superior BJJ chops.
The counterbalance to Lauzon's slight undervaluing is a bit of an overvaluing of Pettis, making him less attractive for a bet. While he is rightly the favorite, at -255 you will have to invest a lot of money to make any kind of profit, which is a risky play when a fighter's biggest weakness is his opponent's greatest strength and he also hasn't shown the best ability to stay away from that weak area. Should Pettis manage to withstand the early Lauzon storm, he becomes a prohibitive favorite, and has the striking rate to work toward a TKO in the second round of the fight.