UFC 206, set to take place in Toronto's Air Canada Centre on December 10th, has been shrouded in unsettling side stories concerning Georges St-Pierre and veiled by the behemoth shadow of New York City's inaugural professional MMA event—UFC 205: a fight card which looks set to be among the biggest and best of all time.
Despite the hubbub, UFC 206 remains a top-level show in the UFC's long-awaited return to the sports-crazed city. In the headliner, the promotion's light heavyweight title is on the line in an eagerly-anticipated rematch between top-level wrestler Daniel Cormier and the stone-fisted Anthony Johnson, while the rest of the card is littered with exciting fights, such as the featherweight showdown between "The Korean Superboy" Doo Ho Choi and Cub Swanson. But, it's a different featherweight tilt which really gets the pulses racing.
The UFC announced what looks to be the show's co-main event, via Canadian sports outlet TSN, on Wednesday—a sure-fire war between two of the 145lbs division's most exciting fighters in Anthony "Showtime" Pettis and Max "Blessed" Holloway.
Of late, the featherweight waters have been muddied somewhat due to the uncertainty at the top of the division's hierarchical chain thanks to both the UFC featherweight and interim UFC featherweight champions in Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo, who have left their respective titles suspended in purgatorial hiatus as the former fights in heavier weight classes and the latter refuses to fight anyone but the former, having being conquered by McGregor in 13 seconds in their heated grudge match.
In short, the fight between Pettis and Holloway is the type of contest to reinvigorate a division that has long been considered among the sport's finest.
29-year-old Milwaukee, WI, native Pettis is very much on the comeback trail in his new home at 145lbs following a surprising fall from grace. Showtime helped build his name in the WEC as an exhilarating lightweight, before becoming a major MMA star when the snatched the belt off Benson Henderson in an impressive unanimous decision victory—a victory which saw him land the much-vaunted "Showtime Kick" on the retreating Henderson to seal the win.
In between training and having his face plastered on the famed Wheaties box, Pettis also won UFC lightweight gold—this time submitting Henderson in a rematch. Pettis' wholesome personality, high-level striking and penchant for the spectacular made him one of the UFC's biggest stars in swift fashion.
Following a successful title defence against the durable Gilbert Melendez, Pettis hit the first slump of fighting form in his career—losing his title to Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos and then dropping two decision losses to the newly-crowned lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and striking machine Edson Barboza.
The Barboza loss prompted Pettis to drop down a weight class; something he had long talked about. In August, Canada was kind to Pettis upon his return to the Octagon as Pettis won his featherweight debut against the top 10-ranked, rangy submission artist Charles Oliveira with a third-round submission victory of his own in Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, Pettis will be hoping to earn consecutive victories for the first time in two years when he takes on Hawaiian Holloway.
Holloway's story is an interesting one in his own right—a story totally at odds with his upcoming opponent's. Aged just 24-years-old, Blessed was brought in as one of the UFC's youngest ever fighters to be housed on its roster at 19, acting as a last-minute replacement for the highly-touted Ricardo Lamas to take on Dustin Poirier. Holloway may have lost his UFC debut, but he was kept around and strung together a nice run of wins over Pat Schilling, Justin Lawrence and Leonard Garcia before dropping a controversial split decision loss to perennial featherweight contender Dennis Bermudez.
Following the Bermudez loss, Holloway ended up on the wrong side of a decision once again—this time to the current UFC featherweight champion and MMA megastar Conor McGregor. But, that was his last loss and Blessed is now riding an unrivalled nine-fight winning streak, six of those finishes, to take his name near to the featherweight division's summit; a victorious run which boasts respected names such as Oliveira, Swanson, Cole Miller, Jeremy Stephens and Lamas.
Similarly to Pettis, Holloway's fighting style is striking heavy and has some nice, slick submissions thrown in for good measure. But, MMA fans have witnessed Holloway emerge from the unfavourable role as a young enhancement talent, there to help others look good, to become one of the division's most dangerous men.
The featherweight division may in a slumber as of now with its two belts held up by a pair of uncompromising champions. But, a win from either Pettis or Holloway will most certainly help roar one of the UFC's most exciting divisions back into life come December 10th—awaking it from a slumber which has now dragged on for far too long.