This Saturday in Las Vegas, Anthony Pettis returns to the division he once ruled as he takes on Jim Miller in a UFC 213 main card matchup. It’s an opportunity for the Milwaukee native to show fans once more what “Showtime” is all about, and if his brief jump to the featherweight division made them forget, this list of his top five lightweight moments should jog their memory.
A protégé of renowned coach Duke Roufus, Pettis tore through the local scene after turning pro in 2007, and he quickly compiled an unbeaten record, drawing interest and a phone call from the World Extreme Cagefighting organization. Pettis kicked off his WEC career in June of 2009 with a submission of Mike Campbell, but it would be his striking game that drew the most attention, most notably with a 2010 head kick knockout of Danny Castillo.
After defeating Castillo, Pettis defeated Alex Karalexis and Shane Roller, setting up a WEC lightweight title fight with Benson Henderson in the organization’s final event on Dec. 16, 2010. For four rounds, Pettis and Henderson battled it out on even terms, with the fifth round to decide who would leave the championship belt. And in that fifth round, Pettis left no doubt on the judges’ scorecards, as he jumped off the fence and nailed Henderson with a flush kick to the head, a move that will be forever immortalized as the “Showtime Kick.”
The “Showtime Kick” guaranteed that Pettis’ UFC debut would have the whole MMA world watching, but in June 2011, he was upset by veteran Clay Guida. Four months later, he got his first UFC win over Jeremy Stephens, but the split decision victory wasn’t the performance the fans were expecting. Fast forward to February 2012 and his fight with Joe Lauzon at Saitama Super Arena in Japan. That night, “Showtime” was back, as he scored a devastating head kick knockout of Lauzon that had everyone proclaiming that Pettis had finally arrived in the UFC.
Injuries would sideline Pettis throughout the rest of 2012, and when he finally returned in January 2013, it would be against another WEC alum in Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who had won six of seven UFC bouts since making his move from the blue cage to the Octagon. It was expected to be a tough battle for Pettis, but he made it look easy, taking less than three minutes to halt Cerrone and secure a rematch with Henderson, this time for the UFC lightweight crown.
Benson Henderson II (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
It may have taken Pettis a little longer than he expected to get his shot at UFC gold, but when he did get the call in August 2013, he made the most of it against his old rival Benson Henderson. Showing off his ground game and proving that he had more than flashy striking, Pettis submitted Henderson in the first round, and the delayed coronation had arrived. Anthony Pettis was the UFC lightweight champion of the world.
It would be another long wait for fans to see Pettis back in the Octagon, as more injuries and a stint as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter sidelined the budding superstar. Yet when December 2014 rolled around and he was pitted against his coaching counterpart on TUF, Gilbert Melendez, Pettis knew what he had to do.
“I gotta go out there and remind everybody of who I am,” Pettis said before the bout, and he did just that, nabbing his second consecutive win by submission as he locked in a guillotine choke and ended Melendez’ night at 1:53 of the second round. “Showtime” was back, and he hopes to be issuing the same mantra on Saturday when he returns to 155 pounds to face Miller.