clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How does ‘Showtime’ Pettis keep pulling off the impossible? Even he’s not quite sure…

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

DALLAS -- Somewhere between the Injury Destined to Happen and the Layoff That Never Should've Happened, it's like we forgot about all the absurdity that came before. Call it a case of pugilistic amnesia, though perhaps that's a tad too generous. The truth is, we -- us outside the fenceline gawking over all this plasma spillage -- are a fickle bunch. And it's really not our fault. When every Saturday night is spent lolling between All-American X versus Black Belt Y, is easy for the amazing to disappear behind the ordinary, especially when the amazing takes a 16-month break for reality television.

But even those with the shortest attention spans can wake from their slumbers with a proper hard shake. Take for instance last December, when in just seven minutes Anthony Pettis did the undoable. Or the year before, when he did the undoable twice more, only this time in four minutes and two minutes respectively. Where were all those injury grumbles then? Probably next to the mass of collective jaws on the floor.

Because that's just how Pettis rolls. It's not enough to be the only man to knock out Donald Cerrone and the only man to submit Benson Henderson. He has to go forge himself new titles -- titles like ‘Lone Destroyer of Gilbert Melendez' -- and suddenly it's getting easier to remember... oh yeah, this ‘Showtime' dude can fight.

The cartwheel kicks, the capoeira riffs, the knees off the wall. At some point negativity took over and we collectively forget just how much of a damn treat Pretty Tony is to watch. And that's obvious now that he's back out on tour, performing those old hits and always teasing the promise of something more.

"I feel like I have everything that it takes. I have all the equations, all the formulas down. I just have to perform now," Pettis says.

"This is my breakout fight. The last fight, people had to remember who I was, remember I can fight. Now this is my breakout fight where I can perform and make people realize, ‘Damn, this guy's legit. He's on the next level.' These fans in mixed martial arts are so quick to forget. There's so many fights, there's so many fighters, there's so many lanes to take. So it's easy to forget. But it's my job to keep them remembering."

It's that last word, "remembering," which seems most fitting for a weekend like this. Because that's what exactly Pettis does when he fights. He gives you moments to remember. Contrast that with his UFC 185 challenger Rafael dos Anjos, a case curious enough to warrant it's own 500-page tome when the historians look back at the middling lightweight who suddenly blossomed into a murderer of men.

Dos Anjos, a Brazilian with 17 (!) UFC fights to his name, is somehow the one scratching for recognition across the Lone Star State, despite wielding a hit-list that reads like a top-10 rankings. Yet there remains Pettis, the fighter with just four mix tapes in four years, gracing the cover of Wheaties boxes and coaxing the elderly into frenzies inside cramped ballrooms during UFC open workouts.

"It's crazy," Pettis marvels. "I can't even (explain it). Even my coaches ask me, ‘How do you feel when you go out there?' Before, I'm nervous. Like even now, I'm nervous about this fight. About this pressure. But once I see that arena and I see that cage, I get in the cage, the door closes, everything's just in, like, slow motion.

"I see these guys loading up for punches. I'm already jabbing. I'm throwing crosses. My Gilbert Melendez performance was probably 60-percent of what I really can do. I had a year off. I didn't perform with all of the confidence that I have right now. I just feel like I'm three seconds faster than these guys. I'm taking angles they've never seen before. I'm taking angles on submissions they've never felt before. I don't know if that's my training. I don't know if I'm just God-blessed in that Octagon. But I just feel like that's my place to be."

If Pettis gets his wish, Saturday night will mark only the second part of a four-episode crusade across the calendar year. Call it making up for lost time, because he certainly has time to make up for.

When my man Chuck Mindenhall this past December called Pettis the "fight game's quiet spectacular," he penned the perfect epithet, because for so long Pettis was more novelty than reality. A kid spamming specials in a video game who showed up often enough to remind you he still existed, but seldom enough to unsettle the bracket.

And that narrative killed him.

Pettis' coach for over a decade, Duke Roufus, calls his longest tenured student "the Latino GSP," a name bestowed not for any looks or charms, but for the sheer consistency of his day-to-day. For Pettis, getting robbed of that day-to-day was nearly crippling. This is a man who demands up to four haircuts a week, for god's sake. How do you think he handled being stripped of his greatest outlet?

"The reason why we're so close is when he first started training in my beginner class, he was there all the time," Roufus says. "We forged a bond because I saw him all the time.

"He's the fighter I've trained the longest in my camp, and I see him the most because he's the most dedicated. He works harder than anyone I know, and he's probably the most dedicated fighter I've ever seen in the sport. And it's not like he trains to exhaustion. He trains consistently, everyday. It's not intensity that makes you great. It's consistency. And Anthony is the king of consistency."

Whether Pettis can pull off his 365-day magnum opus is a question to be answered on Saturday. And then in the summer. And then in the winter. If he succeeds, catching a few more whiffs of that rarified air along the way, greatness may very well be giving daps as Pettis saunters through its front door.

Of course he'll need to rip through a few more impossibilities first. Maybe rob a certain Dagestani of a certain undefeated record and slash through the greatest calendar year in UFC lightweight history. But when someone so consistently makes the implausible ordinary, it's hard to tell them they're wrong.

"I got the fighting style," Pettis says. "I perform out there. People like to watch me fight. Now it's just time to stay relevant. Time to stay frequent and fight. Then people will take that and run."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting