When news first broke that Max Holloway was ruled medically unfit to compete against Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 223 this past weekend, Anthony Pettis’s name was the first to come up as a potential replacement.
The former UFC lightweight champion had been scheduled to fight Michael Chiesa at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, but Chiesa would be ruled out of that contest after being cut by a broken bus window when Conor McGregor made a shocking and violent appearance at a media event on Thursday.
Pettis was not harmed in the incident, and when he returned to his hotel, he was under the assumption that his bout with Chiesa would proceed as expected. Instead, information started coming in from various sources and Pettis and his team were left to sift through it on their own.
“I go back to my room like what the hell is going on, so I’m looking at the internet because no one’s telling me anything,” Pettis told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “We really learned it as you guys learned it, from social media or from some interview, then all of a sudden it pops up that Chiesa got cut and I’m sitting there like, ‘What’s gonna happen?’ I’m hitting up my management, ‘What’s going on?’ We get word from the UFC that the fight’s going to continue.”
Initial reports had Chiesa wanting to still take the fight, but eventually the decision was taken out of his hands. Pettis continued to cut weight, making it down to 156.5 pounds when he was told that he didn’t have to worry about it. He began to rehydrate, but then received another call saying he might still have to be ready to make the lightweight limit.
This pattern repeated itself several times, leaving Pettis completely confused. He also added that despite the rumors surrounding a possible short-notice matchup with Nurmagomedov, there was never a formal offer.
“I get another phone call, ‘Hey, we might need you to make weight again.’ So Thursday night’s just a crazy night,” Pettis said. “Do I make weight? Do I not make weight? Let me just stop where I’m at, I’ll just get down to 156 in the morning, weigh in, and be done with the thing. Because Thursday, it sounded like I wasn’t fighting for sure. And then Friday morning comes around, I’m still 161, 162-ish from rehydrating. Then I start the weight cut and I get down to 156, where I was supposed to be at to weigh in to fight Chiesa. Then the UFC calls, ‘Hey, we might need you to make 155.’ Now I’m just like, what the hell is going on? I didn’t even know why I had to make 155. So I jumped back in the bath, I get down to 155.4 and I’m just confused, and kind of frustrated and annoyed, I didn’t know what was going on. We all saw what happened.
“They kind of offered me the fight, there was never really numbers talk, there was never a contract given, but they’re like, ‘You’re in consideration for fighting for the title.’ Obviously, I wanted it, but (coach) Duke (Roufus) was like, ‘You cut weight three times now and let’s talk about this and figure it out and make sure it makes sense.’ For us, I guess it didn’t go our way, but I was ready to go.”
At Friday’s weigh-ins, Pettis would make it as low as 155.2 before deciding not to cut anymore. It was thought that he might try to make 155 to be eligible to challenge Nurmagomedov for a vacant lightweight title in the UFC 223 main event, but after consulting with Roufus and teammate Paul Felder, he decided it wasn’t seriously worth considering.
The UFC was scrambling to cobble together a headliner featuring Nurmagomedov, especially after his originally scheduled opponent Tony Ferguson had already been lost to injury just a week prior.
Al Iaquinta ended up getting the call, but only after he and the names of the other two lightweights left standing were bandied about. Felder also competes at 155 pounds and he told Pettis that he was being considered to replace Holloway.
“I found out just like everybody else,” Pettis said. “Paul called Duke and he’s like, ‘Hey, they’re asking me about a fight with Khabib.’ So at that point, I’m not going to put my body through this if they’re offering other people the fight. It’s kind of pointless for me to be sitting here on weight and trying to make another .2 pounds — I probably could have just sat in the sauna and made .2 — but I don’t know, it was kind of all over the place.”
According to Pettis, he was paid his show money for making the contracted weight for the Chiesa meeting. However, he is still lamenting not only the lost wages that would have come with a victory, but the missed opportunity to regain a title that he last held in March 2015.
“I’m sitting there thinking about everything that took place,” Pettis said. “I had the opportunity to fight for a title right in front of me and it was so close, but at the same time it just makes me that much more hungry. I’m right there. I’ve gotta get some wins, I’ve gotta get some impressive finishes. I think my mindset is right, where I’m at, my body’s healthy. The best thing about this is I can go right back to the gym and start training and figure out what’s next.”
Pettis told Helwani that he is still interested in fighting Chiesa, and mentioned UFC 225 on June 9 in Chicago as a possible destination for his next bout.