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Anthony Pettis opens up about post-title struggles: ‘I’m not in this to be a gatekeeper’

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It’s no secret that Anthony Pettis has had a rough go of things since the end of his UFC title reign.

In the three years since Pettis lost his 155-pound strap at UFC 185, the former lightweight champion has struggled to the tune of a 2-5 record while being unable to string together back-to-back wins. Those struggles continued in November when Pettis suffered a third-round TKO defeat at the hands of Dustin Poirier. For the man they call “Showtime,” who lost to Poirier after a rib injury rendered him unable to continue, the performance was emblematic of a broader issue that’s plagued him since the end of his championship days.

“I’ve had some injuries in my fight career, but it was kinda just a dumb error,” Pettis explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “I didn’t clear the body triangle, I tried to twist out and I tore the cartilage in my ribs, so it was like a shock. I felt the pop and then I just didn’t know how bad it was until after the fight when I got x-rays.”

Pettis said he suffered a broken nose in the opening round of the contest as well, but his issues began long before that — he called the training camp for the Poirier fight one of the worst camps of his career. Without delving into specifics, Pettis said he was dealing with numerous personal issues that disrupted his focus ahead of UFC Norfolk, and it wasn’t the first time he felt his focus wane ahead of an Octagon appearance.

“It probably was [one of my worst training camps],” Pettis said. “That bad. There was a lot of personal stuff that was going on in that camp that, it threw my mental off.

“Any little errors in your camp can reflect in the fight and that’s what happened, I think. I’ve been fighting for a long time, so I’ve known training camps don’t always go as planned but you try to make it as smooth as possible. That one wasn’t.”

Pettis referenced his struggles with the mental side of the game numerous times over the course of the interview, speaking candidly about his need to address them.

He acknowledged that criticism of his recent performances is something he hears “all the time,” but insisted that no one thinks about his slumps more than himself.

“Honestly, I’m the biggest critic of myself, [more so] than anybody [else] is,” Pettis said. “Everybody’s opinion is what they see in fights. They don’t see my training camps. They don’t see the stuff I go through to get to these fights. For me, even the (Jim) Miller fight wasn’t a great performance. I mean, I did well. It wasn’t the best performance. I just feel like it’s kind of a mental [issue].

“I will be back there, it’s just a matter of time,” Pettis added. “I won’t stay down forever. Obviously I’m still pushing, I’m still training, I’m still in the gym, I’m still getting better and I’ve just got to show it in my fights now. That’s the big thing. It’s something to do with that mental mindset. Honestly, for the Poirier fight, I warmed up at like 3 p.m. [and felt good] before the fight. If I would’ve fought Poirier at 3 p.m., I would’ve smoked him. And then, coming out at midnight when we fought out there, I just was flat. It was like a mental thing again, so that’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

Pettis said he spent roughly two months on the shelf before his nose and rib injuries from the Poirier fight healed enough for him to be able to return to full-contact training. He’s now slated to face fellow lightweight contender Michael Chiesa on April 7 at UFC 223, and he promised camp for the Chiesa fight has gone “way, way better” than it did for Poirier.

At 31 years old, Pettis is hopeful that he’s figured out a new formula that will have him finally performing up to his own expectations on fight night.

“The theory that I had going into those last couple fights is that I [needed to stop] chasing, trying to be chasing that gold,” Pettis said. “I was trying to get that belt immediately. It was, ‘Next fight, who’s the next fight to get me to the belt, who’s the next fight to get me to the belt?’ [But I need to be] just fixing the holes in my games, and it’s just a mental thing, I guess, just getting my mental preparation better. I’m just going in there no matter what’s going on in my camp, whether I feel good or if I don’t feel good, just going out there, turning it on for 15 minutes and having a good performance.

“I’m not in this to be a gatekeeper,” Pettis added. “I’m not in this to have guys make their name off of me. I’ve been the best in the world. I know I can do it, it’s just taking my time and getting back there the right way.”

Chiesa has dealt with his own ups and downs, as well. The TUF 15 winner hasn’t competed since losing in controversial fashion to Kevin Lee at UFC Oklahoma City last June.

Nonetheless, Chiesa remains ranked ahead of Pettis on the UFC’s official media-generated lightweight standings, and Pettis is confident his opponent will be at his best next month.

“Coming off a loss, I’m sure he’s hungry and motivated and he’s coming,” Pettis said.

“It’s just another guy that I have to figure out.”