That’s a good question, and one that has been asked often in the lead-up to the fight.
Pettis was the final WEC lightweight champion when the UFC absorbed the promotion. His hit list includes Joe Lauzon, Jeremy Stephens, Shane Roller, Alex Karalexis, and perhaps most importantly, current UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson.
Cerrone is also a former WEC product. He challenged for the lightweight strap three times, one of those being for the interim belt, but was never able to walk out of the cage with it around his waist.
His win list is just as impressive as Pettis’ though. Cerrone has defeated the likes of Melvin Guillard, Dennis Siver, Paul Kelly, Jamie Varner, and like Pettis, Stephens.
Pettis currently has a 15-2 overall record; Cerrone’s sits at 19-4.
Pettis was already promised a title shot once. Making his way to the Octagon as the final WEC champion, a fight against the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard was on tap… until those two fought to an unlikely draw and rematch was granted.
While Edgar and Maynard finished up their trilogy of fights, Pettis started his UFC tenure on a sour note with a decision loss to Clay Guida. That derailed any immediate hopes he had of challenging for the belt.
He regained momentum with wins over Stephens and Lauzon, but Pettis spent the rest of 2012 on the sidelines nursing injuries.
Cerrone, on the other hand, was plugging away.
He reeled off four consecutive victories to start his UFC career, but just as he moved into position to earn a title shot, a certain Nate Diaz put up a roadblock, dominating Cerrone en route to a unanimous decision.
Cowboy also returned strong, winning back-to-back bouts over Stephens and Guillard.
Leading us to where we are now, with Pettis and Cerrone chomping at the bit to enter the Octagon and prove to the world that one of them should be stepping in with Henderson next, not Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez.
That won’t happen, however, as Henderson and Melendez are slated to headline UFC on Fox 7 on April 20. The best that Pettis or Cerrone can hope for is an impressive victory to lay claim to a shot at the winner.
That claim is a little easier for Pettis to make should he come out on top, particularly if Henderson defeats Melendez in San Jose, Calif. It was Henderson that Pettis took the WEC belt from. If Pettis beats Cerrone and Henderson still holds the belt this spring, a rematch for the UFC strap would make for excellent backstory.
Cerrone may want to root for Melendez, however. If Henderson wins, even an impressive victory over Pettis may make for an uphill climb to a title shot.
Cerrone is 6-1 in the Octagon, but two of his three losses in the WEC were to one Benson Henderson, the second of which was by way of submission. Making his case for a rematch is a much tougher sell than it is for Pettis, but it’s still not out of the realm of possibility. It has been nearly three years since Cerrone and Henderson last fought.
Right now, however, neither fighter is wasting much energy stressing about a title shot dancing around out in the ether.
“I'm not worried about the title shots right now,” said Pettis recently. “It's a year off for me. I'm just worried about getting Ws on my belt.
“So that kind of shot is going to come when it's supposed to. I got a tough dangerous opponent in front of me and I'm concentrating on that.”
Cerrone is of a similar mind.
“We can go up there and put on one hell of a fight and give everyone what they want to see,” Cowboy commented. “And if they give it to the winner, that's what's up, I guess. But if not, we just wait and do what they tell us to do.
“I think both of us have worked hard and we deserve it.”
Possible title shots are always a great motivator heading into a fight, but neither Pettis nor Cerrone is a fighter that needs a lot of motivating in the first place. They both love to fight, and they both love to finish fights.
Regardless of whether or not the winner gets a title shot when all is said and done, we as fans are going to be the winners when these two step in the Octagon on Saturday night.