When it comes to listing the greatest lightweights in MMA history, Anthony Pettis believes former two-division champion BJ Penn belongs at the top.
On December 15, ‘Showtime’ will return to action when he makes his highly anticipated debut for Karate Combat. But first, the former WEC and UFC lightweight world champion sat down with Danny Podolsky in a LowKick MMA exclusive interview the discuss the past and the present of the loaded 155-pound division.
First up was Pettis’ thoughts on reigning UFC lightweight titleholder Islam Makhachev. Coming off of back-to-back wins over 145-pound champ Alexander Volkanovski in 2023, the ‘Dagestani Destroyer’ has earned himself a lot of fans, but Pettis believes he has some serious work to do before he can be seen as one of the greatest lightweights of all time.
“He still has some work to do,” Pettis said. “He just beat Volkanovski and Volkanovski is a great fighter, but he’s not a lightweight. He doesn’t have any wins against a top-10 lightweight, so I think once he can prove himself… He’s a tremendous fighter, but he still has some work to do. That’s the hard thing. Once you get to the top, things change. You got sponsors pulling you. You got events, promotions, and a lot of other options besides training.
“Seeing how he can balance that and see when he fights and how dominant he is, that’s when we’ll see how great he can be.”
Anthony Pettis Names his top-five lightweight GOATS
So if Islam Makhachev hasn’t earned his spot on the list of lightweight GOATs, who has? Asked for his top five greatest 155’ers of all time, Anthony Pettis kicked off his list with an undisputed pioneer of the sport.
“Gotta go BJ Penn,’ Pettis said. “I mean, BJ Penn is a pioneer of the whole thing. Without BJ, none of this would even be possible.
While many people like to point at Penn’s history-making seven straight losses before retiring from MMA in 2019, ‘The Prodigy’ was one of the most dominant forces in combat sports during his heyday. Penn engaged in a series of iconic fights with the likes of Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes, Lyoto Machida, Georges St-Pierre, Jens Pulver, Frankie Edgar, Nick Diaz, and Rory MacDonald. Along the way, he captured both the lightweight and welterweight world titles and still holds the record for the most title fights in 155-pound division history.
Rounding out his list, Pettis looked towards a couple of familiar foes and an undefeated UFC Hall of Famer.
“Ben Henderson’s also in my top-five as well,” Pettis continued. “You gotta go with Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. He’s definitely on there. A dominant guy who never lost. Dustin Poirier is another guy that’s on my top-five list, and then I would say myself.
Pettis and Henderson are no strangers to one another, having competed for championship gold on two separate occasions. The first came at WEC 53 in December 2010 when Pettis landed his infamous ‘Showtime’ kick in the closing seconds of their scrap. Pettis walked away with the WEC lightweight title via a unanimous decision.
Three years later, they would meet with UFC gold on the line. Again, Pettis came out on top, securing a first-round armbar submission with 29 seconds left in the opening round.
A decade later, Pettis and Henderson will complete their trilogy when both men make their debuts inside The Pit at Karate Combat 43.
Watch the full exclusive interview below: