“I don’t put too much pressure on myself to win. I know I’m going to win.” – Anthony Pettis
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis believes he will defend his belt easily against Gilbert Melendez this Saturday in the co-main event at UFC 181 in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“It’s not that I don’t have respect for him,” Pettis said after a packed day of media obligations early on fight week. “He’s always been an exciting fighter and I know he likes to strike and isn’t afraid to get into it; it’s just that he’s not going to want to stand with me. I’m too good. He’s going to try to wrestle with me, because when you try to stand with me, you lose. I just have to worry about some very basic things, like don’t let him take me down, and if he does, don’t let him lay on me for 25 minutes.”
If that sounds cocky, Pettis’s coach, Duke Roufus, says don’t confuse confidence with arrogance.
“Ever since Anthony walked into my gym so many years ago, he knew he was going to be world champion,” Roufus says. “I’ve never known this man to be afraid. There’s just something that happens to him on fight night. The bigger the stage, the brighter the lights, the higher the stakes, he has always delivered.”
Indeed, Pettis’s light has shined bright on many occasions. Not once, but twice against former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in championship bouts - one for the WEC strap, where he landed the now famous “Showtime Kick” off the cage wall. Then there was the first-round armbar submission to take Henderson’s title away from him again, this time a hard-earned UFC title.
“Right now, Anthony’s jiu-jitsu is off the charts,” Roufus says. “And just like Henderson, even if this fight goes to the mat, he’s prepared to tap out the guy who doesn’t tap out.”
He’s shocked MMA fans before. Against a surging and game Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, known as one of the best kickboxers in the lightweight division, Pettis landed a body kick to put Cowboy away three minutes into the very first round.
Still, it’s been over a year since a knee injury, and then a stint as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, since Pettis has seen competition. However, as we learned from former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz earlier this year, holding someone back from something he loves so much for so long could have devastating consequences for any opponent.
“I won’t have any ring rust,” Pettis says. “I’ve put in the time in the gym and I know what to expect.”
Roufus says the time away from competition actually works in the champion’s favor, rather than against him.
“He truly enjoys being in the moment, and that’s because he prepares himself well. And he’s had a great role model in his mother and he’s learned that work equals reward. Lots of guys like to show up at the arena and compete, but not many enjoy the process of preparing for that competition as much as him, and that’s what’s special about Anthony Pettis.”
“My mom went through a lot in her life,” Pettis says. “When we lost my dad she lost the love of her life, and she stuck by us and sacrificed a lot for her sons, and I can never repay her back for what she’s done. She worked really hard and never gave up on herself or us.”
By us, he means older brother Ray and younger brother Sergio, also a UFC fighter, whom Anthony says inspires him to be the best in the world.
“I was once where my younger brother is now in terms of just starting out in a professional career, and his drive motivates me. And just by being in the gym with him and knowing he looks up to me, that’s enough for me to not only want to be the best in the world, but to stay the best in the world. This UFC belt doesn’t define me, but it’s an honor and it means a lot to me.”
Defending his belt isn’t the most important thing to Pettis in this fight against Melendez. He says even if his belt were not on the line, he would approach Saturday night the same way he’s worked toward it.
“The belt is not the reason I want to win this fight. No matter what, I don’t want to lose,” he said. “Melendez is tough and durable, like most Mexican fighters. But I’m ready no matter where this fight goes. I’ve had some amazing fights and some amazing knockouts, and then I’ve had not so amazing fights. My last three fights all ended in the first round, so let the results speak for themselves. I still have a lot more to learn and a lot more to get better at. Gilbert is just another test on a long journey through this life I’ve chosen.”
And despite having some drama at Roufusport, where he trains -- with ex-fighters coming out to complain about a “toxic atmosphere” in the gym -- Roufus says nothing has distracted his prized pupil from the task at hand.
“He’s very focused and anticipating a great night. The great (NFL quarterback) Roger Staubach once said ‘Confidence comes from being prepared.’ Anthony doesn’t just understand that statement, he overstands it. And he’s looking forward to defending his championship in phenomenal fashion.”
When it comes to nicknames, very few can live up to such an auspicious one as “Showtime.” But ever since he was christened with it by his coach during an amateur bout several years ago, Pettis has answered the call.
“Duke gave me that name when we fought on the same card, it was Duke’s last fight actually,” he said. “I was the co-main event and I dislocated my shoulder and I still won my fight with a high kick knockout, and ever since then, he doesn’t even call me Anthony. He calls me ‘Showtime.’ But don’t get me wrong, I’m nervous. Nerves come along with this game. I’m nervous, but I don’t know, I don’t put too much pressure on myself to win. I know I’m going to win.”
“What I saw early on in Anthony early on is he shows up on game night,” Roufus adds. “He truly enjoys being in the moment, and that’s because he prepares himself well. And he’s had a great role model in his mother and he’s learned that work equals reward. Lots of guys like to show up at the arena and compete, but not many enjoy the process of preparing for that competition as much as him, and that’s what’s special about Anthony Pettis.”