LAS VEGAS — The last time Anthony Pettis truly looked like “Showtime,” he was submitting Gilbert Melendez and effortlessly defending his UFC lightweight strap. That was back in Dec. 2014, and incredibly, it marked the last win Pettis notched in the 155-pound division he once reigned over as king — at least, until Saturday night.
Making his return to lightweight after an ill-advised trip to featherweight, Pettis announced his presence with a throwback performance over Jim Miller at UFC 213. Pettis looked crisp and clean with his striking, peppering Miller from range and doubling the veteran’s output on the feet, while also showcasing an improved defensive grappling game. The result? A unanimous decision win that saw Pettis sweep the judges’ scorecards and snap a frustrating three-fight slump at lightweight.
“Just the win in general feels amazing,” Pettis said Saturday at UFC 213’s post-fight press conference. “To be back in the lightweight division, the weight cut was amazing. I didn’t have to kill myself. I got to train the whole camp. It just felt good.
“I felt this way when I went on my title run, when I beat (Joe) Lauzon, (Donald) Cerrone, (Benson) Henderson, all in the first round. I just felt confident in my skillset. I’ve worked really hard on my wrestling with Israel Martinez, and I wanted [Miller] to take a shot on me just to show I had that defense there. I had the range, I felt strong. I hurt my hand in like the second round, the same injury as the Holloway fight, so I stopped throwing that right hand, but everything else worked good.”
Pettis, 30, outpaced Miller in the stand-up even despite the injury, landing 107 strikes to Miller’s 51 over the three-round contest.
“I broke [my right hand] in the (Max) Holloway fight, and it broke in a way that I didn’t need surgery, but we knew it could be broken again,” Pettis said. “So yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s broken, so I’ve got to take it to get x-rays and see what happens.”
Altogether, aside from his hand, everything else went just like Pettis promised.
In the lead-up to the fight, the former WEC champion said he had recommitted himself to his kickboxing and discovered a newfound passion for lifting weights, which was something he had never truly explored. The fruits of his labor paid off with Pettis’ best performance since his title defense over Melendez, and helped wash away the sting of a nightmarish chapter that Pettis spent at 145 pounds in 2016 — one which saw Pettis badly miss weight at UFC 206, then suffer a grisly knockout at the hands of Holloway.
“One-forty-five was death,” Pettis said. “I was trying to make weight, I couldn’t even train, I was just cutting weight the whole time. This was — I felt at home again. I was just having fun and there was no pressure.
“Like in the (Charles) Oliveira fight, I was potentially fighting for a title shot. Max Holloway was the interim title. This one I had no pressure, just go out there and have fun, and that’s what I did. I went out there and had fun.”
With the win, Pettis now reenters his name into the conversation at 155 pounds. While the division has somewhat changed since Pettis captured the belt in 2013 and appeared to be on the verge of superstardom, the opportunity still exists for Pettis to climb the ranks, as he’s a known commodity with an exciting and fan-friendly style.
Pettis said he hopes to figure out the extent of his hand injury before planning his next step. For now, he’s simply content to finally put his struggles behind him and embark on the next successful chapter of his career.
“Just the level of competition,” Pettis said. “I was fighting the best in the world. I fought Max Holloway, I fought Charles Oliveira, everybody at lightweight pretty much that was at the top. So it wasn’t really doubt (that was my problem), it was just getting that mental right. Definitely, you feel like, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ But I just stuck to it. I got a little bro fighting (Sergio Pettis). I think little brother fighting and getting his shine, I was like, yeah, we got something special here.”