Anthony Pettis couldn’t help but notice his team and loved ones watching in agony as he was transported to the hospital following his UFC 185 loss to Rafael dos Anjos.
Pettis, usually the one starring in the spotlight, fell off the mountain top that night, losing his title and his status among the UFC elite.
The shock of it all was unlike anything he had every experienced.
“I never got punched in the face in a fight like that,” Pettis said at Ultimate Media Day on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve never had to go to a doctor after a fight and get my face stitched up. That was a whole new world for me and I know it’s there now. It’s scary, man.”
But Pettis is a resilient person – he’s had to be for himself and his family. His father passed away when he was only 16 years old and he was forced to pick up the pieces for his younger brother, flyweight Sergio Pettis, and his mother.
Now Pettis will try and pick up the pieces once again, this time in his professional life, when he faces Eddie Alvarez in the co-main event of Fight Night: Dillashaw vs. Cruz Sunday night at the TD Garden.
The year 2015 started off in style for Pettis, who became the first UFC fighter in history to appear on the cover of a Wheaties box. He earned his nickname “Showtime” for his creativity inside the Octagon and his mesmerizing striking ability with his hands and his legs.
But against dos Anjos, Pettis realized he had holes in his game that he must remedy if he was to recapture his belt.
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“Alvarez, I feel that his game plan is going to be very similar to RDA,” Pettis said. “If someone watches that last fight (they’re going to say) ‘Let’s pressure him and put him up against the cage.’ There were holes that I had to fix in my game: stop being on the cage, use my footwork and ring control, and making it my fight.”
Pettis set out to repair his overall game before facing Alvarez. He traveled to Chicago for half of his time every week in training camp to work with Izzy Martinez, the decorated wrestling coach of former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and current women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm.
The object was not to become an elite-level wrestler, Pettis explained. He just needed to learn how to not let other fighters implement their game plan on him in a fight.
Against Alvarez, Pettis will get to show off how far he’s come in his efforts to improve takedown defense. Alvarez is relentless and has been vocal about his intentions to push the pace and bring the fight to Pettis.
Pettis said he’ll be ready.
“I’ve just really focused on my skills and getting better for this fight,” he said. “When I show up 100 percent I don’t think nobody in the world can beat me.”
Before Pettis’ fight against dos Anjos last year, his longtime coach and mentor Duke Roufus put into words why Pettis is one of the most captivating MMA fighters on the planet today.
“He has a way of taking chaos for most people and making it his comfort zone,” Roufus told UFC.com in March 2015. “When it’s time to fight (Anthony is like) the worst, most miserable person you want across from you in that Octagon.
“When it’s time to fight, Anthony takes a back seat to “Showtime.”
It’s common for a fighter or any athlete at the top of the sport to fall out of the limelight after a big loss. Some people may have even forgotten how spectacular Pettis can be when he goes to work inside the Octagon.
On Sunday night in Boston, the former champion is planning to remind everybody that “Showtime” is still the main attraction in the lightweight division.
“I’m having fun. I’m finally back. It’s been since March last year since I got to perform in front of anybody,” Pettis said. “This is my time and I’m hungry and motivated. I just want this more than anybody.
“My goal is to be the best in the world and make this game go to the next level with my ability of striking and jiu-jitsu, and put it all together. I feel like I’m one of the first fighters that can put this all together and make it entertaining to watch.”
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC