There are only a few lottery tickets left in mixed martial arts that guarantee the recipient a big-stage opportunity, regardless of whether or not a title is up for grabs.
On Saturday night, amid the craziness of UFC 237, Anthony Pettis was given one of those lottery tickets.
Pettis is slated to meet Octagon superstar Nate Diaz in a hotly-anticipated 170-pound matchup on August 17 at UFC 241. If the bout stays intact, it will mark Diaz’s first UFC appearance since his two-fight series with Conor McGregor shattered pay-per-view records in 2016. And after spending weeks behind-the-scenes trying to make the fight happen, Pettis’ coach Duke Roufus couldn’t be happier with how things came together.
“I gotta tell you, the neat thing about this fight is we kept it real hush-hush,” Roufus said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I think it’s been in the works for about two-and-a-half, three weeks, and the neat thing about it was Nate Diaz’s people talked to our people to put this thing together. So that’s when we knew it was that it was going to be a real fight — when they came reaching out to us. There’s been bad blood between the two guys for years, so it’s going to be a barnburner.”
Roufus’ explanation of how Diaz vs. Pettis came together — Diaz’s team personally reaching out to Team Pettis — is quite different than the usual UFC matchmaking process, which often starts with UFC officials Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard. But Roufus said this wasn’t the first time. Pettis’ team had similar conversations earlier this year about a potential fight against Conor McGregor, he said — conversations which were unsuccessful.
“Some of the higher level managers, we’ve been communicating back and forth,” Roufus said. “Even when there was word of Anthony fighting Conor, our people were in touch with Audie (Attar) and Conor’s people, and they were onboard with it. It’s just, Conor really wants to fight Khabib (Nurmagomedov). I think a lot of the managers are being proactive, professional, where we’re all in this together. At the end of the day, we’re going to fight, but the first thing we’ve gotta do is work together as businesspeople. We’re in the prize fighting business and we’ve got to make fights with prizes.”
Pettis now rides into the Diaz fight after scoring one of the biggest wins of his career in his welterweight debut this past March, a highlight-reel knockout of two-title title challenger Stephen Thompson. That finish is already guaranteed to be on the shortlist for the best knockouts of 2019, and considering the bad blood that has existed between Pettis and Diaz for years, Roufus is excited to see what “Showtime” can do against a foe who can draw some darkness out of the former WEC and UFC lightweight champion.
“We like ‘Wonderboy.’ If he could knock out a guy like ‘Wonderboy’ — Anthony doesn’t like Nate, Nate doesn’t like him,” Roufus said. “I get along fine with Nate, I’m not his bestie, but at the same time I don’t fight the man. I respect the Diaz brothers and I respect their stance. That being said, their stance is easy to fight — when I say [that, I mean] their mentality. They’re not going to like you. People that try and intimidate and get in Anthony’s face, bring him up for the challenge.
“When Donald Cerrone fought [Pettis], Donald had a little trash talk before the fight. Michael Chiesa recently. So people like that actually motivate Anthony. It’s kinda like the scene in Scarface — ‘For a green card, I’ll kill him. But oh, he’s a communist? Then I’m going to carve him up real nice.’ That’s the mentality he has when he doesn’t like guys, so that’s why I’m looking forward to this one.
“I just know stylistically, when it comes to striking, who are the best matchups, and Nate Diaz is a wonderful matchup stylistically for Anthony,” added Roufus. “And we’re at a neat stage of our career where we’re starting to see some stylistic matchups that are fun for him. Now, Nate is not a big shooter, not a big wrestler, so it’s going to be on the feet a lot, unless Anthony chooses it to be on the mat and he wants to take Nate down.”
Part of the strategy in preparing for any Diaz fight is also preparing for the trash talk the Stockton native is famous for, both inside and outside of the cage. And to that end, Roufus is more than happy to slip into the role of the younger Diaz brother ahead of August 17.
“We didn’t get in this to beat bums,” Roufus said. “It’s like, last fight, Anthony beat someone who had never been knocked out before, and knocked him out. And one thing is just the mentality. A funny story (former UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva told me years ago about when Nate fought Clay Guida, he kept saying ‘209 bitch’ the whole time during the fight. [Guida] comes back to the corner and asks his coach, ‘What’s 209? I don’t know.’ He’s in your face.
“So I’m going to be a crazy coach, I’m going to be talking a lot of mess in training to Anthony. That’s some of the psychological tricks my brothers and I used to do growing up. I’m a method coach — when he’s fighting one of the guys I’m fighting, I become that guy in the pads, I become that guy in training, so they get used to that mentality; a guy trash-talking, up in your face, howling and scowling the best way they can from the 209. So I’m going to integrate and get into that mindset. I’m going to be a homie for a while.”