Being one of the most promising young talents in a sport as competitive as mixed martial arts is a position that comes with interesting conditions. As a fighter’s profile elevates, the intensity increases with every step. Pressure and expectation amplify, creating a scenario where victories echo loudly and setbacks are picked apart under a microscope.
It is a situation where finding balance can become a difficult task. In some cases, a fighter never recovers and potential goes unfulfilled. But for some, adversity is the catalyst which sparks great progress and sets the tone for remarkable accomplishments.
Over the past three years, Anthony Pettis has proven to be one of the best 155-pound fighters on the planet, but it is a journey that has come with a fair share of challenges and obstacles. Despite the success that made him one of the sport’s best lightweights, an ill-timed loss to Clay Guida and multiple injuries stalled his once rapid ascension. Undeterred, Pettis has battled through adversity and continued to push towards his ultimate goal of becoming the number one lightweight in the world.
The next step on his quest comes this Saturday night when he faces Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 6.
“A year off makes me hungry,” Pettis told Bleacher Report. “It’s been a long time. I’ve watched these guys fight for the whole year. It’s been win some, lose some for Cowboy, but I was stuck on the sidelines. Now I get to go in there and take my spot back.
“I’m going to the top this year and nothing less. I’m going after greatness. I’m coming out there to prove a point and to make sure everybody knows I’m the number one 155’er in the world.”
When the match-up between Pettis and Cerrone was announced, a buzz resonated throughout the MMA community. Both fighters possess versatile, well-rounded skill sets and bring a unique brand of excitement every time they step into the Octagon.
The show down between two of the UFC’s top lightweights is an early favorite for “Fight of the Night” honors. While Pettis likes the stylistic match-up with “Cowboy”, he doesn’t plan on sharing fight night bonus honors with his opponent.
“Everybody you fight, you have to evolve your game to be better than they are,” Pettis said. “[Cerrone] has some dangerous things he does and some strong points. He also makes some mistakes. I’m trying to exploit his mistakes, stay away from his strong points, and use my game plan.
“I don’t like getting hit and I’m not trying to have a ‘Fight of the Night’. I want to get ‘Knockout of the Night’ or ‘Submission of the Night’. ‘Fight of the Night’ means you had to fight somebody and I come to this thing to be way better than my opponent. I want a knockout or submission bonus. “
Facing a dangerous opponent like Cerrone provided plenty of motivation to prepare, but adding in the lengthy layoff due to injury, Pettis needed the best out of his training partners. The team at Roufusport is considered to be one of the most talented collections in mixed martial arts, and with his teammates (Erik Koch, Ben Askren, Pascal Krauss) all preparing for fights of their own, the energy in Milwaukee was something special.
“The vibe was on fire man,” Pettis said. “We had a slow last year for the whole gym and this year we really want to prove something. We have top-level training partners in our gym and not only that, but Chico Camus is fighting next weekend and we have guys who aren’t in the big show yet that are fighting this month. Everybody was getting ready for a fight and the atmosphere was crazy. Everybody pushed each other and motivated one another. Training camps aren’t easy. You are busting your ass for 8, 10, 12 weeks. We were in there dying together but we win as a team and celebrate as a team.”
With a victory over Cerrone this Saturday, Pettis will find himself on the doorstep of a long-awaited shot at the UFC title. It is familiar territory for the Duke Roufus-trained fighter.
Following the WEC’s merger into the UFC, Pettis was promised an opportunity to fight for the lightweight strap pending the outcome of Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard’s bout at UFC 125. Unfortunately for the Milwaukee-native, a majority draw between the two rivals put his promised title shot in the wind.
In the aftermath of the Edgar vs. Maynard trilogy, the entire upper tier of the 155-pound weight class reshuffled. The chaos ultimately made the division one of the most competitive under the UFC banner and, with another wave of fighters coming over from the now defunct Strikeforce promotion, the race will only become more intense. While a title shot is the ultimate goal, past experiences have taught Pettis to keep his focus on the here and now.
“You can’t look at it all,” Pettis said. “You have to just take it one fight at a time. If I look at all these guys coming over, or guys [the UFC] are trying to sign; it’s a headache. I just take it one fight at a time. I’ve got Cowboy next and he’s a tough guy. But I’m better and I can beat him. I’m going to go out there, do work on Cowboy, and then everybody is going to be talking about me. That’s just how it works. The guy with the most recent win is the hottest 155’er. Then the guy who fights the next weekend becomes the hottest.
“You just have to keep your name relevant. I’ve had a year off and haven’t had a chance to do that. This year I’m going to take advantage of it and get back to where I’m supposed to be.”
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.