Every individual component of mixed martial arts presents a puzzle, from the more physical aspects such as the striking and grappling techniques all the way down to the mentalities fighters carry with them to the cage. Everything can change at the drop of a dime when fight time rolls around, which explains why fighters and athletes alike always talk about preparing for literally every possible plan of attack whenever they get asked about what specifically they see in their opponents’ styles that makes them a threat.

For a good example, we could talk about quite a few strikers in the game right now. On paper, any striker is good until they get taken down and out-grappled by a solid wrestler or jiu-jitsu ace, but to keep crowds coming every time, even a striker needs to diversify. What this means is that they basically need to mix things up a bit, and of course, when we speak of people in MMA that do that exceptionally well, one of the first names that comes up is UFC lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.

Pettis, who makes the second defense of his belt against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185 in Dallas on March 14, possesses a style that might be one of the most exciting to watch unless someone is fighting him, but what makes his striking style so puzzling to his opponents? Many different fans, MMA media, and striking die-hards would agree that the answer relates more to a blend of technical striking and the mixture of unorthodox techniques Pettis incorporates into his fights than to any pure reliance on one or the other.

First off, we hear the term “technical striking” a lot, especially with guys like Pettis, as well as UFC featherweight title contender Conor McGregor and UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, so for those that are unsure of what we mean by that, we will clarify that term at this time. “Technical” striking relates more to the little things that go into the application of striking techniques. In other words, it focuses more on throwing punches, kicks, knees, elbows, forearms, and all their variants as if it were something from an official MMA textbook.

Much like any striking background will do for a person that loves to keep their battles on the fee predominantly, Pettis’ taekwondo background allows him to put more of a focus on how he throws things like his vaunted kicks and his punches, but the use of feints in competition, as well as footwork, also add certain layers to Pettis’ technical game.

By design, a feint will suggest the threat of one particular strike to his opponents while leaving them questioning exactly how to respond, though some men see some of them coming from a mile away because Pettis throws certain “throwaway” strikes, and they do little to suggest an actual threat to them. The feint does its job, however, when Pettis follows it up with something that can legitimately rock his foe, which helps to keep Pettis’ tougher adversaries guessing.

This strategy helped “Showtime” to land the liver kick that vaporized Donald Cerrone’s liver and scored his ticket to a second fight with Benson Henderson. Directly before the liver kick, Pettis threw a left hand to feel out Cerrone’s reaction and then reset when Cerrone blocked it. When Pettis stepped in and threw the liver kick, his left extended to suggest another straight left hand, and Cerrone bit the bait by extending his right hand to parry Pettis’ left, which left the door open for the liver kick.

Additionally, the footwork of the champ shows up more often than people would believe. In his most recent bout, a UFC 181 submission win over Gilbert Melendez, Pettis could not make use of his kicks as frequently as he would have preferred, due mostly to the aggressive offense Melendez demonstrated from the onset, but as the fight progressed, Pettis started to circle away from Melendez, which forced Melendez to come forward and reach more with looping strikes, and allowed Pettis to use angles to his edge, which led him to land a counter-strike that rocked Melendez and set up the game-ending guillotine choke.

Still, as much as the champ keeps his technical striking game on a multi-faceted level, he knows that the way to really deliver on the feet is to keep a mixed bag of tricks that includes a variety of things that almost no one even attempts inside the Octagon.

Yes, people have talked about including different things into their offense, training with world-class athletes from other sports, and doing a variety of different things, but very seldom do many of them ever implement these techniques, fewer incorporate flashy techniques or put their own personalized spin on strikes the way Pettis does, and ultimately, that unpredictability throws guys off completely. As soon as they see one strike coming, Pettis creates a situation in which he can throw something completely out of left field and cause his opponent to hesitate in trying to do anything.

A number of Pettis’ foes still struggle somewhat with figuring out how to combat that offense, even when they know they can capitalize on an opening to pin Pettis down. Of course, the task becomes even tougher when we take Pettis’ striking defense into account. Hitting hard with everything but the kitchen sink is cool, but Pettis complements his unorthodox offense well by blocking and evading that of his opponents, which has been as vital to his success as anything he ever did to set up a fight-ending blow.

It has been almost four years to the day of Pettis’ loss to Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale, and so far, nobody has been able to produce the same outcome that Guida achieved. Come March 14, dos Anjos stands a great chance to pull off the win against the division’s most unpredictable striker, but the champion has responded well to every style of competitor that he has faced to date, and if Pettis can help it, he will look to do it again in Dallas, though fans can bank on him doing so in a way that nobody, outside of his teammates and coaches, has ever seen before.

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.