Anthony Pettis was a star in the UFC, but he wants fighters to know that they have more options when it comes to pursuing their own glory in MMA.
The former UFC lightweight champion and current PFL fighter announced in December 2020 that he’d be stepping into the world of management and promotion with the launch of his Showtime Sports Entertainment Group. Since then, Pettis has continued to compete while focusing on finding opportunities for up-and-coming fighters.
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Pettis lamented the myopic view that some fighters have early in their careers, specifically when it comes to making it to the UFC.
“The management side, it’s sad to see these guys make the decisions they make,” Pettis said. “I’ve been there and some of these guys will pass up on some big contracts in hopes to get on a Contender Series fight. I see it time after time after time and I’m like, ‘Man, look at your career. Look at what age you are. Look at how much time you’ve got left. Let’s make some money before it’s gone. It’s still there, that UFC dream of these guys want to be on Contender Series fights. They’ll risk not making money to take an opportunity on that.
“I get it, they see me and they see what the UFC’s done for my name. Being a champion in the UFC definitely allowed me to do what I’m doing now, but it’s just I thought we were past that at this stage. Seeing PFL coming in strong, Bellator ONE, there’s so many organizations that these guys are just so fixated on one place but that’s the hard part about management. You really can’t control these guys, you can give them the advice and it’s ultimately their decision.”
Pettis made his pro debut at just 20 years old and compiled an 8-0 record before being signed to the WEC in 2009. He fought his way to a lightweight title win, then became part of the UFC when the sister promotion was absorbed into it. Pettis again became champion and received a major marketing push (in 2014, Pettis became the first MMA fighter to grace a Wheaties box) before he parted ways with the UFC in 2020 while on a two-fight win streak.
That 11-year run under the Zuffa, LLC banner taught Pettis a lot about the ins and outs of the business, wisdom that he hopes to impart on his clients.
“I understand some of these higher level guys, but the lower level guys, you’re just starting off, you shouldn’t be so fixated on one path, I guess,” Pettis said. “That’s probably my frustration with it. There’s a lot of other ways to get to what, to being a stable athlete, to be able to live this life and not have another job. That should be the goal of most of these guys.
“‘I’m doing this. I’m one of the best in the world. I shouldn’t have to work another job. I shouldn’t have to have 10 side hustles. I shouldn’t have to do A, B, and C to make a living.’ That’s kind of the path that has to be cleared out right now. I think with all of these opportunities coming up, it just makes things a lot easier.”
Though Pettis has struggled in the PFL with just one win in five appearances, he’s stated that he’s not only happy with his contract due to the pay but for the other opportunities afforded to him. It was recently announced that Pettis will box the legendary Roy Jones Jr. in the main event of Gamebred Boxing 4, which takes place April 1 in Pettis’ hometown of Milwaukee.
In addition to that fight, Pettis remains on the PFL roster and expects to compete on one of the league’s pay-per-view cards later this year.
“When I left the UFC, I was taking a risk,” Pettis said. “Then the PFL came with a contract that was amazing and a cool format that I wanted to try, but I wasn’t fighting guys that were A-level guys, guys that get me excited to fight. It’s not taking shots at them guys, it’s just where they were at in their careers, the format that I was put up against them at, but getting a phone call like Roy Jones Jr. in your hometown, that couldn’t have happened a couple of years ago. So it’s cool to be in this position.”
Marquee fighters leaving the UFC is still an infrequent occurrence, though now-former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou made waves in the industry with his recent year-long holdout and subsequent release from the promotion. This has led to speculation that others could follow Ngannou’s lead — though recent changes to the UFC’s contracts will make this even more difficult — which Pettis would like to see, even though he knows that the UFC will always have a big advantage when it comes to landing fighters.
“I think guys have got to be willing to take that risk,” Pettis said. “At the same time, being a fighter, I understand that ego thing that comes with it. If you want to say you’re the best in the world, it’s who’s the champion of the UFC and that’s just what it is. We all agree upon that. Whoever’s the UFC guy, we’re like, that’s the best guy in the world, just as a collective.
“I think as a fighter you want to be that guy. ‘I don’t care, eventually if I’m that guy I’ll make that money. When I’m that guy I’ll make that money.’ Unfortunately, not a lot of guys get to that point and once you do get to that point you realize it’s not that much money. It’s not like, end-all, you can’t retire and be done forever.”