Answering questions just a few days before his featherweight debut, Anthony Pettis’ tone isn’t what you might expect.
Moving down in weight in the midst of a three-fight losing streak, it wouldn’t be surprising if “Showtime” was all business – serious answers and the traditional sports clichés about still being the same fighter that once held the lightweight title and looked destined to be a cornerstone for the UFC. But that isn’t the case.
“I’m nervous and it feels good to be nervous again,” he admits, fresh into Vancouver for his debut in the 145-pound ranks against Charles Oliveira in the penultimate matchup on this weekend’s UFC on FOX fight card. “I haven’t been nervous for quite a long time and they say if you’re not nervous, you’re not ready.”
Where nervousness is the dominant feeling heading into this fight, confidence is the trait that defined Pettis’ rise to the top of the 155-pound ranks. As he rose through the ranks, picking up stoppage wins over Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone before claiming UFC gold from old foe Benson Henderson in his backyard at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the talented striker had an undeniable swagger and an aura of invincibility.
Just as his rise to the top of the lightweight ranks in the WEC seemed preordained when he stepped into the little blue cage to close down the company alongside Henderson on the night he landed “The Showtime Kick,” so too did his arrival in the top spot of the UFC lightweight division. But after successfully defending his title against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181, Pettis hit a bump on the road to stardom and he’s been trying to get back on track ever since.
“I’m still dealing with it; it’s a rough process,” he says of rebounding from a trio of setbacks that started with him losing the lightweight title to Rafael Dos Anjos and extended through losses to Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza, carrying him to where he is now.
“When you become a professional fighter, you define yourself, and the only thing that defines you is your last fight. Unfortunately for me, my last couple fights from Rafael Dos Anjos to Eddie Alvarez to Edson Barboza have all been me with my head down, so it’s been a rough couple months, but I’ve got some good guys in my corner, good family around me.
“I can’t dwell on the past,” he adds. “I’ve got to get better and grow as a fighter and now I have to do it in a new division.”
Following his loss to Barboza in April, Pettis announced that he would be making the move down in weight to compete at featherweight. While many undoubtedly will see the move as a desperate move of a fighter trying to find a spark to reignite his career, the reality is that Pettis has talked about dropping to the 145-pound weight class for a number of years and was booked to challenge for the featherweight strap at UFC 163 before a chain of injuries led to him landing opposite Henderson in a lightweight title fight one Pay-Per-View event later.
“It’s a new goal, it’s a new division – I always wanted to come down here and have two championships,” offers Pettis, who has always been viewed on the smaller side when it comes to the lightweight division. “I’m in this sport to be a champion, so with the rough patch I had at ‘55, I have a long ladder to climb up, so I could either climb up the ladder I was already at or move on to a new one and that’s what I decided to do: go to ‘45, get this belt and become a two-division champion.”
He’s not being granted easy entry into the division either.
More on Saturday’s co-main: Pettis vs. Oliveira matchup | Oliveira looking to add marquee name to his resume | Watch: Warrior Code: Anthony Pettis | Road to the Octagon | Gracie Breakdown: Anthony Pettis
Currently stationed at No. 6 in the latest UFC Fighter Rankings, the 26-year-old Oliveira has shared the Octagon with several of the top fighters in both the lightweight and featherweight divisions, having made the transition down in weight that Pettis is currently undertaking four-plus years ago.
Although he’s had his struggles with the scale since becoming a member of the featherweight ranks, the Brazilian finisher is enjoying his greatest run of success since arriving in the UFC as an energetic 20-year-old, having won five of his last six, with four of those victories coming by way of submission.
It makes this an instant litmus test for Pettis in his new weight class and the former lightweight champ wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It was a little bit of both – the UFC said he was available and I wanted somebody in the Top 10,” he says when asked if Oliveira was someone he requested or the name the UFC offered when they came to him with his first featherweight assignment. “I wasn’t going to go to ‘45 and fight somebody outside of the Top 10. I have my goal, I know what I have to do and I just have to go out there and make it happen.”
And while dropping down in weight means having to spend a little more time being strict about his diet and cutting a little more weight before fight night, it has also infused Pettis with a renewed energy and excitement heading into Saturday’s event.
“I’m nervous and it feels like old times.”
That’s potentially good news for fight fans and bad news for the members of the featherweight division.