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Anthony Pettis on injury layoff: 'I definitely got annoyed with a lot of fans'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Anthony Pettis sat on a bed around this time last year and let his mind wander.

After knee surgery, the UFC lightweight champion was trying to figure out what he was doing wrong, why he kept getting injured. Maybe it was something happening in training, Pettis thought. Maybe he should leave his longtime home of Roufusport and find a gym elsewhere.

"I was just on painkillers, in a hotel room trying to think of something that makes me feel better," Pettis told MMA Fighting on Monday at a UFC 181 media lunch in New York. "As fighters, we live for that next big rush and I didn't have that. I had a year left with no big fights, no rushes to get me excited. I was trying to think of something else to get me excited."

Pettis (17-2), who meets Gilbert Melendez in the co-main event of UFC 181 on Saturday in Las Vegas, has not fought since beating Benson Henderson for the belt in August 2013. He signed on to fight Josh Thomson, but was forced to pull out with a torn PCL he suffered in the victory over Henderson. All "Showtime" really wanted to do was to get back into the Octagon to defend his belt. Instead, for the last 16 months he has been the butt of injury-prone jokes and the subject of ire from some former supporters.

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"I definitely got annoyed with a lot of fans this year," Pettis said. "Just the way they respond to things. You win the fight, you're the best in the world. You don't even lose a fight, you get injured and you're a fake, you're a phony. So it's like we need the fans to watch the sport but at the same time, I'm just focused on what I'm doing as far as training and having fun doing it. If I have fun doing it, I don't care what people think of me."

The way Pettis sees it, he benefited a great deal from the time off. For pretty much all of his adult life until that point he had one single and solitary goal: the UFC title. That was his narrow focus. With a year to wait until he could actually defend said belt, his focus had to widen.

"That's why I said I found out a lot about myself," Pettis said. "When you don't have that next big fulfillment of a rush, you have to create it in other ways. I did that with my daughter. I did that with my family and my friends, seeing places.

"I found out about who were the real friends in my life, who really cared about who Anthony Pettis is. Just adjusting to all that. Just making sure I'm surrounding myself with the right people and spending my time in the right places."

The layoff was actually lucrative for Pettis. He was able to snare the prestigious position of being MMA's first athlete to appear on a Wheaties box as well as other sponsorships. For the last three months, his face has been on national television every week as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. Though he hasn't been in the Octagon for more than a year, the Anthony Pettis business is the best it has ever been.

"This fight just caps it all off," Pettis said. "All the stuff that just happened just sets up this fight. I feel like my life is always like that. I always have that next thing to do. I love the thrill of the fights and I love that I have everything riding on this next fight."

As for the injury stuff, Pettis believes it has been blown out of proportion. But the Milwaukee native did admit to shifting things in camp. Previously, wanting to outwork everyone as much as he possibly could, Pettis said he trained too much.

"I think I did good this time," Pettis said. "I didn't overtrain. Before I probably would overtrain, overspar, put too much rounds in. This time I did what I had to do. I sparred five rounds. Fight five rounds, spar five rounds. I used to try to do 10. I don't need to do that."

Pettis, 27, wants to fight, he wants to defend his belt and he wants to become one of the biggest stars in the UFC. Some of that is on the line Saturday against Melendez. Pettis also understands that staying healthy is a significant part of those goals. But there other things he values well.

"The more you fight, the more people remember you," Pettis said. "The more highlights you can have. But at the same time, I want a legacy, but I want a life after fighting as well. I can't push myself through these injuries and then I can't play with my kids when I'm 35, 40 years old. For me, it's just doing what the doc says, making sure you treat the injuries right and take care of them and address them when they're there and that's it. They're gonna happen. I'm gonna be injured again, I know it. It's just part of the game. You can't go through this career without having injuries and some people are more injury prone than others."

Is Pettis one of those? He hopes to prove in the coming months and years that he is not what people say he is.

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