With oft-rumored return opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson at December 11’s The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 Finale, former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis is still searching for a rival when he hopefully returns before the end of the year.
And he may not have to search all that long, as word arose on UFC Tonight that two Top 10-ranked challengers are looking to welcome ‘Showtime’ back into the octagon.
The first is No. 4 Eddie Alvarez, who is fresh off a split decision victory over Gilbert Melendez in the co-main event of June’s UFC 188, his first UFC victory. The decorated former Bellator champ lost his debut, a brutal UFC 178 unanimous decision defeat to Donald Cerrone, who will take on Rafael dos Anjos for the belt at December 19’s UFC on FOX 17.
The other is No.7 Edson Barboza, the flashy striker who always seems to be on the edge of title contention but never quite there. The Brazilian Muay Thai expert most recently topped up-and-coming Paul Felder by unanimous decision in UFC on FOX 16’s “Fight of the Night” on July 25.
Long known as one of the more devastating knockout artists in MMA after his classic wheel kick knockout of Terry Etim in 2012, “Junior” needs a signature win to propel him into the top rungs of the deep 155-pound ranks. Booked in fights tailor made for him to do just that, he’s faltered in pivotal match-ups with Cerrone, Michael Johnson, and even Jamie Varner.
As a longtime training partner of Frankie Edgar, Barboza is no stranger to seeing fighters have to make their own case for a title shot. But with a solid 3-1 streak not quite up to par with “The Answer’s” recent body of work, Barboza plead for a top five-ranked challenge from the UFC, courtesy of FOX Sports:
“I want to fight somebody in the top five,” Barboza said. “I’m No. 7, so I would love for the UFC to give me the opportunity to fight someone in front of me. Anybody, all the guys in front of me, I’m ready.”
There’s no doubt that a match-up between Barboza and “Showtime” would be one of the most explosive affairs the promotion could possibly put on. A bout with Alvarez is a much less enticing possibility, as it would be widely predicted that he would implement a wrestling-heavy strategy try to neutralize the lethal stand-up of Pettis.
Who should the formerly touted titleholder face in his bid to return to lightweight glory?