Exclusive Anthony Pettis WEC 53 Interview
In a sport where a fighter’s story is often overblown for artistic value or force-fed to an uninterested audience, there are no exaggerations when it comes to Anthony Pettis and the journey he’s taken this year to become the #1 contender for the lightweight championship.
Nine months ago, not many people were talking about Pettis, a talented but inexperience fighter coming out of Milwaukee, fresh off the first loss of his career. Dropping a split decision to Bart Palaszewski landed Pettis in the murky bottom tier of the WEC’s 155-pound division, a place where back-to-back losses can land you a pink slip.
Now, after three-straight wins and serving as the focus of an episode of MTV’s World of Jenks, Pettis’ star is on the rise, and it will only continue to climb should he walk out of the WEC’s final event with the lightweight title around his waist.
I first spoke to Pettis before his fight with Danny Castillo, the bout that followed his loss to Palaszewski and served as the backdrop for MTV’s time with the now 23-year-old fighter. Last week, we connected again to discuss the incredible year he’s already had and the opportunities that wait before him.
Heavy: How are you feeling right now, having come from when we first talked in March to ending the year with a chance to claim the WEC lightweight championship and earn a shot at the UFC lightweight title as well?
Anthony Pettis: I’m feeling great, man. I’m definitely excited for the opportunity that’s in front of me. I had a really hard training camp; everything is looking great and everything is on-point. This is one of those fights where I’m just ready to fight; I’ve got a week to wait and I wish it was today.
Heavy: Has there been a moment in the last few months after the Shane Roller fight where you’ve sat back and taken stock of the fact that your ultimate dream is that much closer to coming true?
Pettis: Yeah, it’s crazy, man. Last year at this time, no one knew who I was. I was coming off a loss, so it was just one of those moments where I just knew I had to get back and win, and win big. I knew going into the Danny Castillo fight that everything was riding on that fight, and I had a great performance. MTV was there to film it and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to that performance.
Just knowing that I’m right there at the brink of all of my dreams is crazy to me. It’s one of those things where I just gotta sit back and thank God for where I’m at and just stay hungry and stay ready for whatever comes next.
Heavy: Like I told you after the episode aired, watching it moved me to tears, so I’m wondering what your reaction and your family’s reaction was to seeing your story put out there like it was?
Pettis: I just opened up a bar in Milwaukee recently – it’s called Showtime Sports Bar – and I had a viewing party for the MTV show. I had all my family there watching it with me, and man, everybody was in tears. It was one of those shows where I already knew what was going to happen, and I was still nervous for the outcome of the fight. I already knew how the fight ended and I was still biting my nails, wondering what was going to happen. MTV did a great job.
When I just sit back and look at it… when you think about your life, I don’t feel that my life is really that inspirational or that I did something extraordinary or out of the usual; I was just following my dreams and staying true to myself. But when MTV put it in perspective and everything I’ve been through, I realize I’ve had a hard road to get to where I’m at and MTV did a great job telling that story.
Heavy: You definitely had the opportunity to make some different choices that would have played things out differently for yourself and your family, but you’ve done exceptionally well. I know your little brother is someone who looks up to you a lot and that you look out for at every turn, so how is he coming along in the cage?
Pettis: This kid is going to be amazing. He’s 17-years-old and he gives me work in the gym. He’s sparring with me daily, and I’m good, but he’s wrestling in high school, his kickboxing is crazy-good, his jiu jitsu is good. My goal in high school wasn’t to be an MMA fighter; I had other goals and dreams, but his goal as a 15-year-old was to be an MMA fighter, so he has a lot of years on me in terms of training to reach that goal, so by the time he’s my age, he’s going to be a world champ for sure. He’s something special.
Heavy: You heard it here – watch out for Sergio “The Phenom” Pettis.
Pettis: That’s right.
Heavy: Shifting back to the fight, break Ben down for us. How do you see the fight playing out on Thursday?
Pettis: Fighting a guy like Ben, you’ve got to be ready for anything. He’s aggressive on his feet, he’s a good wrestler, he’s got a great takedown, and he’s hard to submit. He’s got great posture in your guard, so it’s hard to play a high guard against because he’s always standing up and throwing bombs, so you just have to get your body conditioned to go 100% at all times. You can’t let up, because the moment you do, he’s going to catch you in a guillotine or catch you slipping.
Getting ready for this fight, I just really focused on becoming a better MMA fighter and being good everywhere; good at takedowns and takedown defence, striking, submissions, everything. This is one of those fights where I can’t predict a knockout or a submission or anything. This fight is just going to play out and whoever makes the first mistake is going to get jumped on because we’re both finishers. The WEC picked the right two guys to end the last show. It’s going to be a crazy fight.
Heavy: There is a 50/50 chance that you will be the last man to ever win a fight in the WEC. Coming from where you were when we first spoke back in March to potentially walking out the last lightweight champion and the last man to win a fight in the WEC, how does that feel right now?
Pettis: It’s an honor that the WEC chose our fight to be the last fight. For me, it’s one of those things where I don’t want to disappoint. These guys made me who I am; without the WEC, no one would have known who Anthony Pettis is. No one would have seen the MTV story; no one would have seen any of my fights, so I don’t want to disappoint the organization. I’m going to go out there and do what I do best – put on a show for the fans and do my best to win this fight.
Heavy: As you said, you’re a guy who has a reputation as being a finisher; only one of your wins has come by decision (June 2008 versus Sherron “Rob Roy” Leggett). How much of that is gameplan and how much of that is just capitalizing on the moment?
Pettis: Everything starts for me in training camp; I train to finish fights. Coming off that Bart loss, it was a really close fight that went in his favour, and because of that I have a loss on my record. I never want to feel that again, so I made a promise to myself that I would never let a fight go to the judges again.
I would rather lose by getting knocked out or submitted than get a decision loss. That is still the one fight that I want to fight again; I want to avenge that loss because it was a decision from the judges. That fight just made me never want to let it go to the judges. I’ve got the fight in my hands for 25 minutes this time, and I’ve got 25 minutes to finish this guy.
Heavy: Well you’ve done a tremendous job of finishing your three fights already this year, so we’ll see how this one turns out. Regardless of how next week plays out, congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished this year and thanks for always taking the time to talk with me.
Pettis: Thank you, man – I really appreciate it.
Anthony Pettis would like to thank MMA Inc, Jeff Meyer, Sergio Pettis, Duke Roufus, Mackens Semerzier, Pat Barry and everyone else from Roufussport, Amp Energy and Form Athletics.