In a weird way, Anthony Pettis’ move down to featherweight led to his eventual move all the way up to welterweight.
Pettis, the former UFC lightweight champion, moved down to featherweight to challenge for the interim title against Max Holloway in 2016. Holloway won via third-round TKO, but Pettis lost more than a fight that night in Toronto. His health was affected for a long time afterward and he might even still be facing the effects.
“At 45, I was really, really bad,” Pettis told MMA Fighting. “I only did it for the title. I thought, if I could be champ in another division, let’s do it. But that was really rough on my body, man. It probably took me a couple months before I could even like digest my food right. When I ate, I just felt like I was in a constant constipated state. I couldn’t like digest my food. It just held everything. I was just looking fat, looking chubby. I’m not usually a fat dude. I think that weight cut just hurt my body.”
Pettis, 32, went back to 155 pounds for his next fight. But the damage he did cutting to 145, he said, made cutting to his old division harder than ever. On Saturday, Pettis will compete in the welterweight division for the first time in the UFC, facing Stephen Thompson in the main event of UFC Nashville.
What pushed “Showtime” to 170 pounds for the first time in 11 years was his UFC 229 loss to Tony Ferguson last October. Pettis took that fight on five weeks notice and he said he felt like he couldn’t even train for it — all he could do was prep his body for the weight cut.
Afterward, Pettis told his longtime coach Duke Roufus, who has never been a fan of weight cutting, that he wanted to move up to welterweight. Stephen Thompson, a fellow striker, represented a fascinating stylistic matchup.
“I already know the skill level is there,” Pettis said. “I just gotta get that energy back to where it’s supposed to be at. I think the weight cut has a lot to do with it. I told Duke I wanted to fight at 170, we looked at the roster. ‘Wonderboy’ made sense. Ranked No. 4 in the world. If I’m gonna try it, I might as well do it right.”
There was another reason for the division jump. Pettis said he believes the lightweight division is in a “logjam” and he plans on staying active in 2019. And if he gets the win over Thompson, the possibilities at 170 would be very intriguing. Especially since Pettis’ teammate Woodley lost the welterweight title to Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 earlier this month, opening up that potential door for “Showtime.”
After living through this training camp without having to worry about a weight cut, Pettis sounded like a new man during fight week. At one point during the phone conversation, Pettis had to get up to pick up food that was being delivered to him. The luxury of someone who doesn’t have to starve and dehydrate himself leading up to a cage fight.
“The biggest thing is the mental,” Pettis said. “Your brain isn’t foggy because you’re dehydrated. You’re not zapped of your energy. You can work out. I have energy to get ready for this fight.”
Pettis (21-8) also more than likely doesn’t have to worry about getting into the cage with someone who is going to try to grind out a decision with wrestling or grappling. Thompson, a karate fighter, is someone Pettis, a former taekwondo star, is eager to test his mettle against. Pettis has a ton of respect for “Wonderboy” and what he has done in the welterweight division.
“My style has been hindered because of the wrestling and I think he adapted to it well,” Pettis said. “He made these guys fight his style, at his range. He has great takedown defense. And he’s not like an offensive wrestler. So I think that leaves us with a stand-up fight. A whole lot of ninja shit will be happening — spins, jumps, flashy kicks. For us, it’s normal. It’s not like we’re trying to be flashy. That’s just how we fight.”
And, unlike those usually fighting Thompson, Pettis doesn’t think anything he’s going to see will be shocking.
“I just feel like there’s not much he can do to me,” Pettis said. “The side kicks, the round kicks, I’ve seen that so many times. He’s gonna throw straight punches and try to get my head to lean back for the traditional round kick. It’s offspeed, that’s why it throws all these kickboxers off. No one throws those kind of kicks in sparring, because it’s kickboxers usually sparring with us.”
The move to welterweight might not be permanent, Pettis said. But the time was right and so was the opponent. This one should be fun, especially without a weight. “Showtime” will get to be “Showtime.” And that’s good for all involved.
“I got ready for a fight this camp,” Pettis said. “I didn’t get ready for a weight cut. The results will show.”