It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since Anthony Pettis landed the “Showtime” kick on Benson Henderson. Seven years!
The sky was the limit for Pettis back then. UFC President Dana White was on record at the time saying he thought Pettis was the best pound-for-pound fighter.
My, how times have changed.
Time is unforgiving. So are injuries. An athlete’s body can only take so much. So, what happened to Pettis?
After the WEC was absorbed by the UFC, Pettis was promised that his first fight in the Octagon would be for the lightweight title. Well, it turns out Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard would have something to say about that. The pair put on back-to-back instant classics while “Showtime’s” UFC title aspirations were put on hold.
Pettis is a fighter, though. Instead of waiting on the sidelines for his chance to fight for UFC gold, he opted to take a fight against longtime UFC veteran Clay Guida. His UFC debut came on the same night that Tony Ferguson was crowned The Ultimate Fighter season 13 winner. There were 1.8 million people watching live on Spike TV as Guida held “Showtime” in check for 15 minutes and had his way with the former WEC champ. This was not the debut Pettis and Dana White had envisioned for the top-rated lightweight in the world.
Pettis, a true fighter in every sense of the word, learned from the loss and went on a tear. He topped Jeremy Stephens, Joe Lauzon and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone to earn a shot at the title. He defeated his old nemesis, the aforementioned Henderson, to capture the lightweight title. He successfully defended it against Gilbert Melendez. It looked like Pettis had arrived. For those five fights, he was unquestionably the best 155-pounder in the world.
MMA is an unforgiving sport, though. Pettis lost his next fight — and the title — to Rafael dos Anjos. It’s not so much that Pettis lost his belt to the Brazilian, but it was the manner in which he was defeated. For 25 minutes, Pettis was dominated in every facet of the game. It was a wakeup call. Something needed to change.
“Showtime” went on to lose two more bouts in a row. First, it was a split decision loss to Eddie Alvarez. Then, he suffered a unanimous decision loss to Edson Barbosa. Something still needed to change, but what? He sure wasn’t about to leave Roufusport in Milwaukee, the only gym he has ever known. Then it dawned on him. It wasn’t about moving gyms, but instead it was about moving to a different weight class.
In late 2016, Pettis made the move down to featherweight after previously competing as a lightweight. If his first fight in the division was any indication, it appeared as if he had made a great decision. Pettis submitted the highly touted Charles Oliveira in just 1:49 of the very first round.
It was a good start, but it wouldn’t last. Just four short months later, it seemed Pettis’s age and years of competing had finally caught up with his body. In arguably the biggest fight in his career, an interim title bout with the surging Max Holloway, Pettis inexplicably missed weight. In his own words, “My body just shut down. It stopped working.” Of course, he is referring to his body not responding to his weight-cutting attempts. Needless to say, he looked terrible in the fight. It’s amazing he lasted into the third round against Holloway.
So, the featherweight experiment was short-lived. Here we are now, back to the division where it started for Pettis. At UFC 213 on July 8, “Showtime” gets an opportunity not many fighters get. He has a chance to make another run. His opponent at UFC 213 is Jim Miller. Miller isn’t looking to make things easy for Pettis, as Miller himself would like to make one more run at UFC gold.
It’s been a crazy ride for Pettis. It’s not the way he would have envisioned it. Seven years goes by so quickly, and we still must wait two more months to see what he has left in the tank.