Eyes on the Superfight: Why Aldo vs. Pettis is Still the Answer to the Featherweight and Lightweight Buyrate Woes

By Michael Ford

Since making its debut in early 2011, the UFC Featherweight Championship has struggled to build interest commensurate with the caliber of fighter that holds it. Jose Aldo has been the best featherweight in the world since April 2010, and has turned back every challenge, but since his UFC debut in the co-main event of UFC 129, he has yet to compete on a pay-per-view that garnered over 500,000 buys. His struggles are indicative of an overall trend regarding the sub-welterweight divisions, as despite incredible fighters wearing the gold, only BJ Penn — a fighter who gained

much of his fame fighting at welterweight, mind you — has been able to headline a card that drew significant viewership. Next weekend at UFC 181, the UFC will be hedging its bets a bit, as a fight that has received the sustained promotion and buildup that The Ultimate Fighter provides will occupy the co-main event spot: Anthony Pettis will defend his UFC Lightweight Championship for the first time against Gilbert Melendez. And the outcome of the fight could hold the key to unlocking the drawing potential of both the lightweight and featherweight championships.

As we recall, when Pettis was still a top contender at lightweight, he signed on to headline UFC 163 against Aldo as a title challenger at featherweight. And although an injury caused him to instead take on Benson Henderson for the lightweight title a month later at UFC 164, this matchup was not forgotten. Mere moments after winning the UFC Lightweight Championship, Pettis called out the UFC Featherweight Champion:

“Jose Aldo, we’ve got some unfinished business. My belt or your belt.”

And just like that, the seeds of a real superfight were sown. Unfortunately, the UFC chose not to go in that direction, preferring instead to put Ricardo Lamas and Chad Mendes in front of Aldo, and name Melendez as the #1 lightweight contender when it re-signed the former Strikeforce champion. However, the timing of Aldo’s recent win at UFC 179 and Pettis’ potential defense at UFC 181 could open up a window in early 2015, one that the UFC should capitalize upon. It is a fight nearly two years in the making, and assuming Pettis wins, both men’s careers couldn’t be hotter. For Aldo, it would be the opportunity to take his featherweight dominance to a new weight class, and with a win, make a strong case as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. For Pettis, it would be the opportunity to give Aldo his first Octagon loss, and put a stamp on him as THE lightweight to watch, a bona fide superstar.

But the second component of this superfight is perhaps even more intriguing. UFC on Fox 15 looms, and given New York’s continued ban on MMA, its Newark, NJ locale is the closest the UFC can get to the media capital of the world. It demands a big main event, and former lightweight champion and New Jersey native Frankie Edgar has already staked a claim to the date, coming on the heels of his win over Cub Swanson in the UFC Fight Night 57 main event. He has called out Aldo, and on merit alone, he does deserve another shot at featherweight gold. However, in Conor McGregor, the UFC has the fastest rising star in the sport, and despite being booked to headline UFC Fight Night 59 in Boston against Dennis Siver, most assume he has the inside track at a fight with Aldo. The solution here is obvious: “The Notorious” Conor McGregor vs. “The Answer” Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC on Fox 15, for the Interim Featherweight Championship.

McGregor has been a media darling for quite some time, and access to the brightest of media lights in New York City would be nothing short of spectacular. One could only imagine the scene of McGregor holding court in Times Square, and making the rounds on any outlet that would have him. McGregor also has the contingent of Irish fans, who most certainly would make the trip stateside to see their favorite son win gold. That he would be on the enemy ground that is Edgar’s home state would only add to the atmosphere. It would arguably be the highest-profile featherweight fight ever, and it would be a PPV-caliber fight on free TV on Fox, one that would likely be the highest-rated fight since the debut, which means that whoever scored the win would be showcased to the biggest possible audience.

That it would be for the interim championship rather than the “real” one would be immaterial, as Edgar is without a doubt a championship-caliber fighter, one of the best fighters ever. A win in a second weight class would put him in elite company, even if he didn’t do it against Aldo, and a win in Jersey would cement his status as a man of the people, as the crowd response would likely be the biggest in his career. As for McGregor, it would be by far his biggest win, and it would immediately position him as the biggest star the featherweight division has ever seen, a worthwhile flag-bearer at 145 pounds.

What happens next depends on the outcome of Pettis vs. Aldo. If Aldo wins, he remains at lightweight, and takes on new challenges at the weight class, while the interim featherweight championship just becomes the plan-old championship. If Pettis wins, Aldo returns to featherweight, and takes on the Edgar-McGregor winner in a fight to unify the belts and crown an Undisputed Featherweight Championship. It would immediately become the biggest fight the featherweight division has ever seen, and elevate the division to must-watch status, aka a PPV draw.
Much of the discussion over the last week has been whether McGregor or Edgar should be fighting for the featherweight title next. Both do. But the best possible outcome for the fighters, their divisions, and for the UFC as a whole, would be to make the long-awaited Aldo-Pettis superfight, and the Edgar-McGregor championship fight. Pettis just has to win next weekend.

UFC 181

Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez (UFC Lightweight Championship)

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UFC 181: Hendricks vs. Lawler II (formerly UFC 181: Weidman vs. Belfort) is due to take place on December 6, 2014 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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