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'Showtime' Pettis Plans to Exploit Shane Roller's Holes, Seize WEC Spotlight

Anthony Pettis goes by the nickname "Showtime." It's an ironic moniker given the fact that his own mother, Annette Garcia, can't bear to watch him perform under the spotlight. What's even more ironic is that it's largely mom who laid the foundation for his surging MMA career.

Pettis was just a five-year-old kid who needed a place to go when he was first introduced to martial arts. At the time, Annette was a single mom attending college, and a taekwondo class on the campus of her school sounded like a perfect short-term distraction for Pettis and his brother, Rey.

"I hated it," Pettis says now with a laugh. "I wanted to be with my friends and play basketball, just be outside."

Rough beginnings became a hallmark of his early days in martial arts. The young Pettis not only had no interest in the taekwondo lessons, he also had no interest in going any further. So when his mom signed him up to compete in his first tournament some time later, Pettis wanted no part of it.

Scared to perform forms and kick other kids, and uncomfortable in front of the large crowd gathered to watch, Pettis told his mom he wasn't going to compete.

"My mom told me to go out and lose," he said. "She said, 'Just go out and do it. I already paid for it.' So I decided to get my ass kicked in the first fight. But then afterward, I knew I wasn't ever going to do that again. She knew what she was doing. It kind of helped me break the ice to go out there and compete. Now I fight in front of thousands of people and I love it."
"It's funny, now [my mom] says, 'Why did I start you guys in taekwondo?' While I'm in there fighting, she's out there, praying."

On Wednesday night, the 23-year-old Pettis (11-1) faces Shane Roller at WEC 50 in what is inarguably the most important fight of his young career. While neither man is guaranteed a title shot for a win, the loser is guaranteed a long road back.

It's a road he'd rather not take again. After losing a Dec. 2009 match in which he was just a short time removed from a motorcycle accident, Pettis was essentially thrust into a must-win situation. Faced with the pressure-packed scenario, he wowed audiences by registering victories in back-to-back months.

In March 2010, he needed just 2:17 to score a highlight-reel headkick knock out over Danny Castillo. In April, he went into the second round before submitting Alex Karalexis with a triangle.

He believes the versatility of being able to finish with his striking or on the ground will give him the edge over Roller, a three-time All-American wrestler who's earned three straight WEC wins.

Asked if he sees holes in Roller's game, he doesn't hesitate.

"Definitely," he said. "He's not a striker. He doesn't want any part of striking. His wrestling is good, but it's not the best wrestling for MMA. He doesn't set up his takedowns well with punches. He kind of just runs in and tries to impose his will on you. So I see a lot of holes I'm going to exploit on Wednesday."

Pettis acknowledges that Roller could put him on his back at some point, but that seems to phase him little.

"If it goes to the ground, I'm going to have a submission waiting for him," he said.

While Pettis prides himself on being complete, he is primarily thought of as a striker. His background is a genuine curiousity in the sport. As one of few MMA stars who proudly comes from a taekwondo background, Pettis has no problem carrying the flag for the art. Taekwondo is thought to be the most popular martial art in the world in terms of number of practitioners, yet it has been criticized for its perceived ineffectiveness in a real fight.

That's an assessment he disagrees with.

"I think the right athlete in any martial art can make it effective," he said. "It all depends on the practitioner. If you're a great martial artist, you can use it. It might not be as practical as kickboxing or boxing, but then again, if everyone's doing the same martial arts, there's no excitement, there's no fighter that stands out. So I think I kind of stand out. These things have been working for me for my whole life, so if I'm in a fight, I'm going to use them."

Along with his mentor Duke Roufus, the rising star also helps run a gym, Evolution Martial Arts, that is heavy on taekwondo, along with an MMA gym, Roufus Sport. The budding entrepreneur is also investing in an MMA-themed bar in his hometown of Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, he's exploring ways to increase his own profile. In the fall, he'll be featured on an episode of the upcoming MTV series "The World of Jenks." Filmmaker Andrew Jenks followed Pettis around for 11 days prior to and during his fight with Castillo.

More WEC 50 Coverage: Scott Jorgensen | Chad Mendes | Joseph Benavidez

"It's going to show all the hard work and emotions that go into the fight, so it's going to be great for MMA, as well as the WEC and myself," he said. "I'm trying to get my hand in a lot of different things. You can't rely on just one thing. I'm setting up my empire now."

The show's also going to give Pettis a chance to turn the tables on mom, and watch what she goes through as he fights. During all of his bouts, she either turns away from the action or, if she's in the arena, she leaves her seat. She'll be at the venue on Wednesday, but Pettis doesn't expect anything to change. 'Showtime's' mom can't stand to watch the show.

In the meantime, Mom's going to have more to worry about. Anthony's little brother Sergio is a budding MMA star. At 16, Sergio, who's been nicknamed "The Phenom," is 3-0 as an amateur and already trains with the pros.

"He's going to be crazy good," Pettis said. "It's funny, now she says, 'Why did I start you guys in taekwondo?' While I'm in there fighting, she's out there, praying."

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