“I don’t really want to talk about the title fight and all that,” said Roller. "That’s what everybody keeps asking me before my last few fights. If I keep finishing fights and doing what I’m doing, the title fight will come.”
Both men point to their fathers as heroes. Both covet the WEC lightweight title.
But the similarities between Shane Roller and Anthony Pettis, inside and outside of the cage, pretty much end there.
Roller was raised a “country boy” in Oklahoma; Pettis grew up in inner city Milwaukee. When Roller describes his childhood, he speaks about it in idyllic terms, reminiscing about a lengthy list of wrestling victories, hunting trips and fun-filled family memories. Pettis’ childhood forced him to grow up fast and cope with the 2003 murder of his father. Roller, a noted grappler, was a three-time Division I All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University; Pettis, a super-athletic striker, started training martial arts at age five and is a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. And while Roller is a low-key family man with a wife and two kids, and has no nickname, Pettis doesn’t apologize for being a bit on the flashy side at times, rocking the moniker “Showtime” and allowing an MTV crew to film snapshots of his dynamic life that will soon be broadcasted on the popular cable network.
The paths of Pettis and Roller will collide Wednesday evening in a main card battle at WEC 50 that could see the winner get a crack at WEC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, who is expected to be cageside at The Palms watching them.
“I don’t really want to talk about the title fight and all that,” said Roller, who is riding a three-fight win streak. “That’s what everybody keeps asking me before my last few fights. If I keep finishing fights and doing what I’m doing, the title fight will come.”
Pettis also treaded lightly on the title talk, saying only, “There are big stakes with this fight so it’s important for me to get the ‘W.’”
Strategy-wise, there are no secrets about each man’s intentions in this fight.
“Every fight I get into I’m going to get it to the ground and submit my opponent, that’s where my strength is,” Roller said. “I’ll use my hands to get it there. If I knock him out or use a big punch to get him to the ground then so be it. He’s a tough guy and he finishes fights. He’s never been stopped and that’s what I want to do, I want to finish him.
The 23-year-old Pettis, a knockout artist who trains under highly-regarded Duke Roufus, has made takedown defense a priority and has worked with former UFC champion Pat Miletich, among others, for this fight.
“Shane Roller wants this fight on the ground. He’s a great groundfighter with a good rear-naked choke,” said Pettis, who is 9-1 in his MMA career and whom Roufus compares to a younger version of Georges St-Pierre. “Everybody keeps asking me if I’m afraid to go to the ground with him. I’m not threatened by him; I’ll be ready wherever the fight goes. If he takes me down I have good jiu-jitsu. I definitely want to frustrate him and make it hard for him to take me down … If I keep it standing I can end the fight quickly … But if it goes to the ground I’ve got something for him.”
Pettis is 3-1 in the WEC with two first-round submission victories and one first-round knockout over Danny Castillo. His lone loss was to veteran Bart Palaszewski by split decision. Pettis said he was hampered by a shoulder injury during the bout that eventually required surgery.
A triumph over Roller would be quite a feat given the transplanted Las Vegan’s impressive 5-1 record in the WEC, with his only blemish coming in a bout against Benson Henderson before he won the belt. Roller had hurt Henderson with punches before “Smooth” Ben turned the tables and rallied for a come-from-behind TKO victory.
“I think about that loss with Henderson quite a bit,” Roller said. “There are a lot of what-ifs that cross my mind. I just want to get back to the point where I can have a rematch with him and get that belt.”
Roller, coming off a huge win over Anthony Njokuani, said defeating such a dangerous striker helped him prepare for the same threats Pettis will pose.
“I feel confident now. When I step in the cage I feel like I belong there,” said the 31-year-old Roller. “At the beginning of my WEC career there were things I needed to work on and I was a little nervous about whether my standup was ready. But every time I get in there now I feel better and better. My standup – I know I don’t do a lot of it because my gameplan is to get it to the mat – but I feel confident with it. I’m seeing everything coming at me and I feel good. I’m not scared to stand there and bang with him (Pettis), but at some point I’ll be looking for that takedown.”
Leading up to the biggest fight of his career, Roller faced something of a dilemma. His five-year-old son had been repeatedly pestering him about watching Daddy fight live at The Palms.
“My kids have never come to my fight,” said Roller, who also has a three-year-old daughter. “We record the fight on DVR and if there is no blood or anything like that then we let them watch it. But my boy is bugging me. Last time we didn’t let him come to the fight and he didn’t understand why. My boy comes to watch me training and sparring all the time. He wants to be at the fight, he’s ready to be there, so I don’t know how I’m going to keep him away from the fight this time. He might come to this fight. It might be his first one that we let him come see.”