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Anthony Pettis on Gilbert Melendez: 'He's on his way out of the peak of his career'

NEW YORK -- Anthony Pettis believes Gilbert Melendez will be one of his toughest opponents and is undoubtedly among the best fighters in the lightweight division. The UFC 155-pound champion just thinks Melendez's career path and his own trajectory are going in opposite directions.

"I feel like he's on his way out of the peak of his career, and I'm just entering it," Pettis told MMA Fighting at a media lunch Monday in Manhattan. "I think his peak of his career, I wouldn't say it's passed, but he's not starting it anymore. I'm just starting to tap into my grown-man strength, my full potential, my knowledge of fighting. I'm very confident in this fight."

Pettis will defend his belt for the first time against Melendez in the co-main event of UFC 181 on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Pettis is more than a 2-to-1 favorite, but many think Melendez, with his versatile skillset, will give "Showtime" a tough go. Pettis does not doubt that at all. But he sees Melendez's biggest possibility at victory as taking him down and grinding him out, like Clay Guida did to Pettis in Pettis' last loss in 2011.

"I don't really have an elaborate game plan or anything like that," Pettis said. "He's a tough guy. Good boxing. I know he's gonna try to wrestle me. Anybody that fights me is going to try to wrestle me, take me down -- Clay Guida. I'm not afraid of anything. He most likely won't knock me out. He most likely won't submit me. He might take me down and hold me down. The only thing I'm afraid of is losing a decision. As long as I keep that mindset to win at the end of the rounds, I'll be fine."

Pettis (17-2) has not fought since winning the lightweight title from Benson Henderson at UFC 164 on Aug. 31, 2013 due to a knee injury. The Milwaukee native said he could have come back in August or September, but the Melendez bout was scheduled for December because both men are coaching opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter this season.

Melendez (22-3) is also coming off a long layoff. "El Nino" hasn't competed since beating Diego Sanchez at UFC 166 on Oct. 19, 2013. Pettis doesn't really believe in ring rust, but either way this is a level playing field in his eyes.

Pettis said some might be underestimating him in this fight, because the perception is that his ground game is behind his athletic, technical striking. That might be the case, but he has five career submissions, including the first-round armbar against Henderson last year. Only one other person had ever tapped Henderson in his career before that.

Pettis believes that since he's finished his last three fights in the first round people haven't been able to see his full arsenal. He thinks he might get a chance to show that off Saturday -- if Melendez lasts that long, he said.

"They haven't seen how my game has changed and how good I've actually got," Pettis said. "If Melendez is tough enough to make it out of the first round, they're actually going to see how good my game is."

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