Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis defends his title against Anthony Pettis on March 14th at UFC 185 in Dallas, Tx. Check out the event page for more information!
When Anthony Pettis first stepped foot into Duke Roufus’ famous Milwaukee mixed martial arts academy at 19, he got his ass kicked.
He got his ass kicked every day.
But after each practice, Pettis retreated to his locker room, battered and bloodied, with a sense of optimism.
“I had bloody noses every day, black eyes all the time, and I actually liked it,” Pettis said of his entry into competitive MMA. “I liked the fact that someone was able to do that to me.”
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These days, it’s Pettis who is giving out the beatings.
All the bumps and bruises suffered en route to winning the UFC lightweight championship filled Pettis, 28, with confidence gained through perseverance. No matter how bad it was, he kept coming back. Now he is one of the most entertaining fighters on the UFC roster, and has quickly established himself as one of the best pound-4-pound fighters on the planet.
Roufus, Pettis’ longtime friend, mentor, and head coach, said he knew right away that Pettis was special. He saw a legend in the making.
“He is very cerebral in his approach to everything he does,” Roufus said of Pettis, who defends his title against Rafael dos Anjos Saturday night at UFC 185 in Dallas. “It’s so easy to do these fight camps with him because he comes to the gym smiling every day. Some people are grumpy, they hate training, but he likes training just as much as he likes getting his hand raised. When you got that, that’s the making of a legend right there.”
“I had bloody noses every day, black eyes all the time, and I actually liked it. I liked the fact that someone was able to do that to me.” - Pettis on his entry into competitive MMA.
It hasn’t always been easy for Pettis to smile.
In 2003, Eugene Pettis Jr., Pettis’ father, was killed in a home invasion robbery. Pettis, a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, could barely bring himself to care about anything after the tragedy. Martial arts were swiftly placed on the backburner and it took all of his energy just to go through the motions.
Pettis and his two brothers, Ray and Sergio, who is also set to compete at UFC 185, were left without a father. Their mother, Annette Garcia, broke down.
“She lost the love of her life just like we lost our dad,” Pettis said. “I had nobody to hold me accountable. I could have done whatever I wanted to do at that time.
But the thing that kept me on track was not making my mom sad. I didn’t want to see her cry anymore, the way she was crying for a year or two after my dad died.”
Garcia eventually picked herself up. She had to; her three boys needed her. She set the example for Pettis, who followed suit. He recommitted to martial arts in 2006 when he joined Roufusport.
In the process of healing after his father’s death, Pettis became the man of the house. The tragedy forced him to grow up, maybe even faster than planned, in order to keep the family together.
Today Pettis is two people: There’s “Showtime,” who dazzles inside the Octagon on fight night, and then there’s Anthony Pettis – father, brother, son, and friend.
“I have two people I know. I know Showtime, the guy that gets in the Octagon and does his thing – the competitor,” Roufus said. “But then I know Anthony. Anthony is still the same Anthony as long as I’ve known him.”
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Pettis is reserved, kind, and even a bit shy to the people close to him. He is a loving son, who jumped at the opportunity to buy a house and car for his mother this past Christmas. He is a caring father, who said everything he does, inside and outside of the Octagon, is for his three-year-old daughter, Aria.
“Me being a father actually gave me a whole new outlook on life in general,” Pettis said. “You hear it all the time before you’re a dad that kids change you. When I had my daughter we made a type of bond, a connection – she’s why I do it. When this is all said and done I better have provided a great life for my daughter, otherwise none of this was worth it.”
Pettis took his family to his father’s grave in Milwaukee this past weekend to celebrate his life on his birthday. Aria Pettis brought 58 balloons to mark the occasion, one for every year Eugene Pettis would have been alive.
“His birthday is actually a good time. It’s Nov. 12 – the day he died – that is kind of a sad time. That reminds me of everything we went through,” Pettis said. “Even now, 12 years later, you still remember all the hard times that it brought. But his birthday is a good time.”
Pettis has developed into the fighter he is today because of his dedication to every discipline of mixed martial arts. He’s known as “Showtime” because of his flashy style, but not many people talk about his great striking technique, his always-improving wrestling, and his Brazilian jiu jitsu – Pettis has seven career wins by submission.
Roufus may have put it best when it comes to defining who Pettis is as a fighter: “He has a way of taking chaos for most people and making it his comfort zone,” Roufus said.
“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.” Pettis turns on a light switch, he said, and when it’s time to go, when the bright lights shine, he simply performs.
“He has a way of taking chaos for most people and making it his comfort zone,” - Duke Roufus on Pettis
After winning the title at UFC 164, Pettis had to spend a lot of time on the shelf rehabbing a knee injury. He yearned for that light switch, despite the negative comments he was hearing from his critics.
“I definitely hear and see; it’s impossible not to hear it and not to see it,” Pettis said. “People calling me injury prone and paper champion, but I just take the higher route.”
Pettis isn’t concerned with what people say about him because he has bigger things to worry about. He’s intent on being the best of all time.
A quick examination of Pettis’ career makes it easy to buy into the idea. He’s won at every stage, and he’s done so in violent and jaw-dropping fashion. Everybody remembers the Showtime kick.
Roufus likens Pettis’ mindset to perhaps the greatest fighter who ever lived, Muhammad Ali, who said he was the greatest even before he was the greatest. Pettis has always just believed he could climb the mountain.
“You have to start a sport with the end in mind,” Roufus said. “The goal when he started was not just to be a champion, but the greatest of all time. That’s where I think a lot of athletes in the sport have a disconnect. They get involved and think, ‘Hey, cool. I’m in the UFC. Maybe I’ll get a title shot.’ If you’re not in this to be the best of all time, I think you need to pick a different job.”
Everything seems to be going according to plan for Pettis, who now has his sights set on a very dangerous dos Anjos.
But Pettis is used to facing challenges. He’s optimistic that, when it’s all said and done, he’ll be considered one of the baddest men on the planet.
“I’m getting there. I think I have a couple more years before I can be called that,” Pettis said. “I think I have one of the best well-rounded skill sets. I wouldn’t say I’m the best jiu jitsu practioner, but if you put everything together – I have seven black belts and I’m knocking guys out. So I think I’m getting there to being one of the most dangerous guys on the planet.”
And Pettis, the cerebral fighter with a nasty streak, will flip that switch Saturday night. Anthony Pettis to Showtime. The transformation will be something to watch.