Anthony Pettis remembers being the lightweight champion of the world. He also recalls his time as the No. 1 contender at 155 pounds. Today, after two consecutive losses to Rafael Dos Anjos and Eddie Alvarez, he says “I don’t know where I am now, I just stopped caring about that.”
For the record, “Showtime” is currently ranked third in the world heading into his UFC 197 bout against Edson Barboza on Saturday. And when he says he doesn’t care about his place on the lightweight ladder, it’s not that he’s unconcerned about getting his belt back one day; it’s that he remembered the important things heading into this pivotal bout.
“I’m gonna take it a fight at a time and enjoy the ride,” Pettis said of his mindset these days. “That’s what I think got me to the belt. I definitely wanted to be the champ, but I didn’t know how close everybody was, and I think that’s what made me dangerous. I just went out there with nothing to lose.”
And every day in training camp leading up to those fights saw him pushing the envelope daily, going hard and coming up with moves that left mouths agape when he pulled them off on fight night. But along the way, he lost that love for training when it became more important to play it safe in order to just make it to the fight.
“Once this is your career and you’re used to a certain lifestyle and you start fighting for a paycheck, that’s when it becomes a job and then you’re afraid to get hurt because the paychecks don’t come,” he said. “I had a lot of bad luck with injuries in my career. I had four surgeries in nine years, and some pretty severe ones. It’s scary to think about, but I always got through it and always went on to the next fight.”
Whether it was his knee, elbow, hands or shoulder, Pettis was beginning to spend more time on the sidelines than in the gym, so when it was time to train, there was always that concern that zigging when he should have zagged could lead to another extended trip on the DL. The losses to Dos Anjos and Alvarez only added to his woes.
“I was so caught up with not getting injured and being careful so I didn’t get hurt and didn’t miss these fights that it took the fun away from it. It took the fun from going against tough guys and challenging myself and pushing myself every day in practice. I was so worried about getting hurt, I was doing the minimum of training.”
Heading into the camp for the Barboza fight, something had to give for Pettis if he wanted to remain among the elite in the sport. Soon, he got that something that allowed him to make training fun again, and he got it from the most unlikely of sources.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
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The two WEC vets fought in January of 2013, Pettis delivering one of his best efforts with a first-round knockout victory. In March, the two reunited for a USO tour.
“We were together for seven days,” Pettis said. “We talked and we just connected.”
Once back home, Cerrone reached out to Pettis and asked his former foe about training in Albuquerque with the Jackson-Wink MMA team. Pettis accepted the offer, figuring he would get in some work for a few days then head back to the Roufusport team in his native Milwaukee.
“It was difficult at first,” he said of his first time leaving home for a training camp. “Initially, I was just coming to spar. I came out on a Monday night. I was going to spar Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and come back home. But I fell in love with the training. I brought my little bro (Sergio) out, we both had good training partners, the vibe was good, the coaching staff and the fighters were welcoming, and it just clicked.”
More than that, Pettis got a taste of the good ol’ days on his first night in New Mexico.
“The first day we sparred, there’s a guy trying to spike me on my head, and it’s like, ‘Damn, that’s how it used to be,’” he laughs. “I used to fight for my life in these situations and that’s why I got good. So I had to find that love and that passion for training again. I used to go out and just have a great time and do some things guys can’t do in the Octagon.”
The only thing Pettis admits to not doing in Albuquerque was going skydiving with Cerrone.
“It’s probably isn’t the safest thing to do two weeks before a fight,” he said.
After a few weeks with the Jackson-Wink team, Pettis finished his camp up at home with the Roufusport squad, and as the fight with Barboza approaches, he sounds more focused and happier than he’s been in a while. In other words, Showtime has his mojo back. Right on time.
“I’ve got to go out there and redeem myself and not hold anything back,” he said. “This fight’s going to show me fighting with everything I’ve got and not playing it safe. I’m gonna go out there and try to finish this guy like I used to do.”