If there’s been a knock on UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, it’s how seldom he shows up on fight cards. Pettis has fought five times in the last three-and-a-half years. Yet in that time he’s won five times. He’s taken home four end-of-the-night bonuses. He won the UFC 155-pound belt. He signed a sponsorship deal with Reebok. He became the first man to submit Gilbert Melendez. And he became the first ever UFC fighter to appear on a Wheaties box.
It’s not hard to imagine how big of a star he’d be if he fought more often. Yet in 2015, that seems to Pettis’s his new goal. "Showtime" wants to return to prolificacy. It continues on Saturday night in Dallas, when he defends his title against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185, just three months after defending that belt against Melendez in Las Vegas.
And to hear his longtime coach and friend Duke Roufus say it, Pettis would prefer the UFC set them up as quickly as he can knock them down.
"That’s how Anthony made his bones in this business, if you go back and look at his record in the WEC -- he fought five times in 13 months coming up to the Benson Henderson fight," Roufus said during an appearance on Monday’s MMA Hour. "And that was a tough layoff for him when he needed to sit out, just waiting for the title [shot] and [to see] what was going to happen when he fought Clay [Guida].
"But I mean, he loves to do this all the time. What I like about it is he’s kind of like a student right now who doesn’t leave school. He doesn’t have to cram for tests, he doesn’t have to catch up. He’s always in striking distance of always being in shape not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. He’s ready to fight all the time. I’m so proud of him. He’s really evolved as a man. Not that he was a bad person, but…being a really close friend in his life, I love everything he’s doing with his life right now. The person he’s becoming and what he’s doing, as well as an athlete. He’s working on so many new things."
Pettis is only 28 years old, and is just now coming into his prime years as a mixed martial artist. That’s saying something, considering that he was the reigning WEC champion at 24 when that promotion merged into the UFC. Known as one of the game’s most dynamic strikers, he’s become equally deadly everywhere, as evidenced in his submission victories over Melendez (guillotine) and Henderson (armbar) at UFC 164.
Yet even with his star rising and so much going in his favor, Roufus says that Pettis remains the same hungry kid he met all those years ago in Milwaukee before Roufusport became Roufusport. The big difference, he says, is that Pettis has become a well-rounded human being -- and yet one who’s also managed to remain eager enough to learn everything he can about MMA.
"He’s a better man," Roufus said. "That’s what I’m so proud of. I was just in the barbershop talking about this, what makes Anthony Pettis special. Most people, when they’re doing great and you make a suggestion, ‘hey let’s try this,’ it’s, ‘what do you mean? I’m awesome. I’m perfect. I’m great.’ Anthony Pettis knows he’s great, but he’s not perfect. And what I like about it, he’s constantly picking up new tools, new pieces, new philosophies. He keeps me on my toes. I’m making myself better to make him better, and it keeps us all hungry and it keeps it fun."
In Dos Anjos, Pettis will face not only a fighter on a three-fight winning streak, but one who has shown remarkable improvement in the stand-up game. Rafael Cordeiro’s fighter has scored knockouts of Benson Henderson and Jason High in the last nine months, along with a masterful dismantling of Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 13 his last time out.
Marking that improvement, Roufus anticipates some fireworks if Dos Anjos opts to stand in front of Pettis.
"I really like what he’s going to do, if he does it," Roufus said. "We haven’t had a lot of guys who’ve wanted to stand with Anthony except for really Donald Cerrone. Anthony caught Joe Lauzon early, but [mainly] Donald…and that’s what we’re going to see, somebody who will stand with Anthony Pettis, and that’s my favorite fight. Because that’s where you really see Anthony Pettis showcase his skills. So if Rafael stands with him we’re going to have a barnburner of a fight, and Anthony’s going to come out on top."
Roufus says that a busier Pettis is a more indestructible force. So, what’s his official prediction for how Saturday night’s fight will go down at the American Airlines Arena?
"Knockout," he said. "This is going to be a fight that’s won on the feet. I got to tell you, Anthony, when he ran off that five-fight streak in the WEC and had some amazing performances -- a Pettis that’s fighting this often is the most dangerous Pettis you’ll see. You don’t want to let this kid starting fighting too often if you’re the other contenders. He said the other day I could do this four times a year easy. That’s how easy the training camps are for him. Not because he’s lazy, but because he is like the [Floyd] Mayweather of our sport, hard work and dedicated. He’s the guy [that says], ‘hey, let’s do one more round,’ or ‘hey, let’s do another session on Saturday.’ He’s the one asking me to schedule more as opposed to me telling him to schedule more. That’s why he’s going to win.
"I saw him one day against top level boxers spar 14 rounds in a row like it was nothing. Fourteen rounds. He’s on a different level. A lot of people don’t realize how strong Anthony is until actually they’re in there with him."