UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis has announced that he has been given his return to action date by the UFC: Dec. 6, against contender and fellow Ultimate Fighter coach Gilbert Melendez.
Pettis broke the news on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani on Monday. The date means that it will be well over a year out of the Octagon for Pettis, a difficult stretch of time for any fighter to be away, but more so for a champion. His last bout, at UFC 164, saw him defeat then-champ Benson Henderson for the second time (the first came in the final lightweight title bout in the WEC), winning the UFC lightweight championship.
Having been champion for over a year without defending has brought uncomfortable comparisons to the likes of Dominick Cruz, who was eventually forced to relinquish his UFC bantamweight title due to a long injury layoff (he could potentially return to the cage in September), but Pettis has dismissed this comparison.
He also points out that some of his extended layoff has been the result of coaching Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, which will be composed of an entirely new division, women’s strawweights, with a champion crowned come season’s end. In regards to TUF, Pettis told Helwani:
“The TUF thing I something I couldn’t say no to. It’s one of those things that, it boosts my star power, I use it as the opportunity to train at other places.”
Despite his insistence that he’s good to go, however, no one will know for sure how his injured knee will hold up, or how he will react to the long layoff until he makes it to the cage. It’s not the first injury of his career, adding to the criticism he has felt, but it is the longest, and there’s always the question of ring rust.
In perhaps one of the few upsides to the layoff, title challenger, former Strikeforce lightweight champion and opposing TUF coach Melendez will have sat out over a year by the time the two meet, waiting patiently for his title shot.
A strong performance on Dec. 6 should silence the critics.