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Anthony Pettis explains UFC departure, plan to become ‘the face’ of PFL

To steal a phrase from one his former co-workers, Anthony Pettis isn’t just here to take part, he’s here to takeover.

“Here” being the PFL after Pettis recently parted ways with the UFC, the promotion he has called home since 2011. Pettis, 33, announced in December that he would be joining the league and competing in its upcoming 2021 season.

Ahead of his most recent win over Alex Morono at UFC Vegas 17, it was known that the fight would be the last on Pettis’ UFC contract. However, it was unclear whether he would return to the UFC or possibly jump over to Bellator to be on the same roster as his brother Sergio. In an interview on What the Heck, Pettis explained why he the PFL presented him with an opportunity that other organizations couldn’t match.

“I was looking at a couple of deals, a couple of opportunities and the PFL just made the most sense to me, especially at this point in my career,” Pettis said. “Their format for becoming a champion, I can become a champion in 12 months. It’s a season. I know when I’m gonna fight, it’s definitely a whole different experience for me having the tournament-style like this.

“And also I get to be the face of this company. I know there’s other big names in this, but I’m taking it on my own shoulders to be the face of this company. I feel like it’s my job to make this company a household name and people want to tune in and know when the next PFL fights are happening. That was another big thing for me, saying yes to this part of my career. Bellator, ONE FC, same kind of concept of the UFC, I’d have to work my way up to a title shot. I have to find out who’s the next guy in line, try that aspect, whereas this is laid out how to become a champion. I know how to do it. It’s in 12 months, in a year’s span, there’s 10 guys in my division and only four of ‘em I have to beat, so it’s exciting for me.”

Despite the UFC recently releasing a number of high-profile veterans, including Anderson Silva, Yoel Romero, and Jussier Formiga, Pettis made it clear ahead of the Morono fight that he didn’t feel like possibly re-signing with the UFC was dependent on a victory over Morono. He went on to win his second straight fight, but rather than make another run at the lightweight title he once held, he decided to change course.

“I wasn’t getting cut,” Pettis said. “I wasn’t on the chopping block, I had an offer from the UFC. But that offer was like putting me back in the same rat race I’ve been in, if you will. I’ve been in that rat race. I know I was going down to 155, everybody’s trying to get that belt again. There’s some names in front of me. It would have been fun to go back and take care of some guys that I know I could have beaten and that I lost to, but when I made this decision I took all that emotion away from it.

“I took away trying to be a champion in the UFC, trying to come back from losses that I had, rematches that I wanted. What makes sense for my career? What makes sense for Anthony Pettis right now? It didn’t take long. I knew what my goals were and these guys are giving me a format for it.”

Pettis doesn’t mince words when he discusses the other big reason for signing with the PFL: That $1,000,000 prize promised to the winner of its season. The league format has each fighter compete twice in the regular season for a spot in the playoffs, and then three times in the playoffs to capture a championship. Knowing the schedule and what lies at the end of it made Pettis’ decision an easy one.

That said, putting pen to a different organization’s paper after being with the UFC for so long was a strange moment for Pettis. Even after getting cleared by the UFC and even after receiving offers from other promotions, Pettis was still experiencing mixed emotions as he made the PFL move official.

“It was probably one of the most nervous days of my life,” Pettis said when asked what it was like to sign the PFL contract. “It was making a big decision. Like I’ve said, the UFC’s been nothing but great to me. I’ve had the best opportunities, I’ve gotten treated very, very well in the UFC, taken care of very, very well. Great opportunities. I grew up under them lights, them gloves are part of my life.

“Then deciding that I’m going to go see what’s next, the next part of my career, the next chapter of my career, turning the page onto the next part of my career, I was nervous. I still am nervous. Anything could happen.”

Standing in Pettis’ way is a deep division of Russian wrestlers, big show veterans, and, of course, two-time PFL lightweight champion Natan Schulte. Whether it’s this season or the next, it feels like Pettis and Schulte are destined to cross paths and Pettis looks forward to the encounter.

“Obviously, you’ve got to look at that guy,” Pettis said. “He won twice in a row, definitely looked great, had some great striking, great jiu-jitsu, all-around great fighter, honestly. He comes from a great camp, so he has guys testing him all the time in his camp, but he hasn’t fought Anthony Pettis.

“He hasn’t fought somebody like me. The way my mindset is right now I’m just excited to go out there and actually perform. Not only win, but perform, and carry that flag on my back.”

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