Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
It started inconspicuously enough. Seated cageside at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night, No. 1 UFC lightweight contender Anthony Pettis watched as his former WEC stablemate, Jose Aldo, defended his featherweight title for the sixth consecutive time, this time edging out Frankie Edgar in UFC 156's "superfight" main event.
Pettis is expected to fight the winner Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez for the UFC lightweight strap, the culmination of three frustrating years spent trying to regain what was rightfully his. However Henderson-Melendez doesn't take place until late-April, meaning best case scenario, Pettis will once again be sidelined for a sizeable chunk of the year while he awaits his title shot.
Pettis has been here before, and things didn't quite work out the way they were supposed to. So this time the 26-year-old took matters into his own hands, pulling out his cell phone and texting UFC President Dana White, letting the boss know, he wanted Aldo, and he'd drop to featherweight to do it.
"I'm tired of waiting, man," Pettis admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I'm just tired of getting passed up. Who knows what happens in the lightweight fight. Who knows what injuries are going to occur and how long that's going to take.
"I was in the same position twice. I was there, I was the next guy in line, and it all depends on who the UFC wants to see fight. That's what it's all about. I think it's who sell the tickets, who can sell the pay-per-views, and who do the fans want to see fight."
Pettis has always focused on staying busy in the past. That's how he found himself in this situation in the first place. As the final WEC lightweight champion, "Showtime" was scheduled to challenge the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II for the UFC strap back in 2011. Of course, the bout wound up ending in a draw, a rematch was promptly booked, and Pettis elected to accept a tune-up fight against Clay Guida -- which he lost -- instead of waiting on the sidelines.
"I think he's really spooked, for sure, about having to repeat of a few years ago," echoed Pettis' head coach, Duke Roufus. "I mean, I remember watching the [Edgar vs. Maynard II] fight on New Year's Eve, going, ‘Wow, we've got us a great title fight coming up with Frankie Edgar, and then the tables were turned. In this business nothing is sure.
"There's the injuries, a close decision, does someone want a rematch right away. It's just hard these days. Anything and everything can happen."
For Pettis, it's that fear of the unknown, and the inactivity that it brings, that led his to callout of Aldo. Shelved with a catalog of injuries for a majority of the last 12 months, including a frustratingly nagging shoulder injury, Pettis fought just once in 2012. According to Roufus, that struggle "lit a serious fire under him to get some things accomplished."
Despite fighting and soundly defeating Donald Cerrone less than two weeks ago, Pettis is already back in the gym, training hard in case either Henderson or Melendez suffers an injury. His relentless focus, compounded with the fact that he isn't a big lightweight by any means, leads Pettis to believe he would have no issues cutting down to challenge Aldo.
"I want to fight for a belt, man. That's the intriguing part for me," Pettis explained. "It's another belt, and I don't think the weight cut would impossible. I think it's something I could pretty easily do.
"I only cut like two pounds to make 155. I have a clean diet and I barely cut any weight when it's time to get down to '55. I mean, if my teammate Erik Koch can do it, I'm pretty sure I could."
Not surprisingly, Pettis' coach agrees with his claims.
"Anthony's got a weird body," said Roufus. "He's not a huge 155'er. He's kind of a tweener. His last three fights he hasn't really even gone to the sauna to cut. His nutrition is on point. His strength and conditioning [is on point]. We just do a light workout in the morning to make weight the last three fights that we've fought. He's very disciplined in that side of his career."
With his bold callout, Pettis now finds himself in a strange, but enviable, position. White told the attending media at UFC 156's post-fight scrum that he was quite interested in a Aldo vs. Pettis title fight. From the outside, it appears that the onus may inevitably come down on Pettis to decide which champion he wishes to challenge.
Though if he had his wish, "Showtime" would fight both.
"Right now it's so fresh and brand new, that I'm just trying to clear two paths to get to both of these belts," explained Pettis. "I mean, they say, ‘You can fight Jose Aldo in three months, and then you get the winner of Henderson-Gilbert,' then I'm signing the contract today.
"That's up to the UFC. I'm not going to make any decisions or close any doors until they decide what they want to see. I put my opinion out there, I'm up for either one, and I guess it's just what would make sense for you guys now."
For what it's worth, Roufus prefers Pettis rematch Henderson -- "Anthony has his number, and Ben knows that," he stated flatly -- though he'd be wholly supportive of either bout, as Pettis "matches up quite well" with Aldo. Either way, Roufus is confident his star pupil will come away victorious.
Pettis has often talked about cementing his place at the top of the sport. And after several years of snakebitten luck, he now has a unique opportunity to do just that.
"It's something I've been thinking about for a while," Pettis said in closing. "[Aldo] is on the top pound-for-pound list, and that's where I want to be at. I want to be the best fighter in the world.
"I'm looking for the big fights. I think both of these fights are big, and it's kind of just up to the UFC to pick which one they want me to be part of.
"Once they come forward and tell me something, because honestly I don't know anything, I can look at my options and see what happens. At 155, I'm comfortable, man. I feel I'm the No. 1 contender. I'm right there, so it's not a fact of I'm trying to drop weight, to cut down, because it's an easy way to a belt. It's just, I want to fight. I just want to fight. This is all I do. A year off just motivates me, and I want to make this my year."
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