Ex-UFC Champ on Departure: ‘I’m Taking It Personally’

Anthony Pettis vs. Nate Diaz


After nine years with the company, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis decided to part ways with the UFC at the end of 2020 to join the Professional Fighters League (PFL) for its upcoming 2021 season.

“I get to be the face of that organization. I think they have some big names: Rory MacDonald, Fabricio Werdum … but I’m taking it personally. I’m going to be the one to carry the flag for this company,” Pettis said in a January 6 interview on the YouTube show Real Talk with Kelsey and Rachel.

Sure, the former UFC lightweight champion had entertained the idea of returning to the UFC in hopes of finally securing his long-desired megafight against UFC superstar Conor McGregor, but the 33-year-old decided to end his time there to sign with PFL instead.

Now, the popular American MMA fighter enters his new promotion hoping to capture gold for a third different organization.

Previously, “Showtime” grabbed belts for the WEC and UFC. Now, the ex-champ wants to win the PFL’s $1 million lightweight tournament and the shiny gold belt that comes with it, too.

“I’m ready to get that third belt!” Pettis said.

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Why Pettis Passed on UFC’s Offer

Pettis enjoyed his time with the UFC and revealed he did have the chance to come back to the company.

“They offered me a contract to continue on there, but I just felt like I had been there so long. … I’ve done everything that you can do in that organization,” Pettis said.

So instead of the familiar, mostly emotional approach he had used to make big decisions in his life before, Pettis said he gave his next move some serious thought.

“I wanted to decide what’s best for me, for my career, my legacy,” Pettis said.

That meant fighting out his UFC contract instead of re-upping at the first contract offer so he could receive other offers. At the end of the day, Pettis decided the best offer he got was from PFL, so that’s the route he decided to take.

“Definitely, I had all the offers,” Pettis said.

But Pettis picked PFL over offers for UFC and others for two basic reasons.

“One is their platform. They’re on ESPN. They’re on the same network I was already fighting on,” Pettis said.

ESPN has been the UFC’s exclusive television partner in the U.S. over the last year, but the sports network also has a similar agreement with PFL.

“Two is their format. It’s a season,” Pettis said.

Unlike the fight-by-fight promotion the UFC employs, PFL uses a seasonal format. That includes the chance for every PFL fighter participating in the tournament that year to win their way to the PFL championship every single season.

“Showtime” revealed he was grateful for his time with the UFC, but over his last few years in the sport, the longtime contender said he felt like he saw too many decisions that came down to politics over performance.

“I think in the UFC, and a lot of other organizations, it comes down to a lot of politics as far as who gets title shots, who gets…the big fights,” Pettis said.

Pettis explained that’s the same kind of game he’s already played for too long, and now he’s excited to compete in a different format where the winner moves on to the bigger fights no matter how popular they are.

Indeed, PFL CEO Peter Murray told Heavy the same thing last year about his company’s very different approach to MMA.

“For the fighters, it’s all about merit. It’s performance-based. It really speaks to most fighters’ competitive drive,” Murray said.

Indeed, Pettis feels empowered by the PFL.

More than that, though, “Showtime” said moving over feels more like a partnership rather than the boss-to-employee relationship he had with UFC.

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Biggest Change for ‘Showtime’ Led to Boldest Action

The biggest change Pettis hopes to bring over with him into his new league is something he learned from a sports psychologist.

Pettis had always been against learning how to deal with his thoughts and feelings in that manner, but the veteran MMA fighter gave it a try last year and said it opened new doors for him that he never saw coming.

“It opened my mind up to a whole different approach to life,” Pettis said.

Pettis said one of the biggest things he learned from that experience was how to slow things down in his mind and make decisions without emotions attached to them.

Another way to put it is that Pettis learned the value of detachment.

Not only has this new way of thinking helped Pettis inside the cage, but the fighter said it helps him in the rest of his life, too.

In the end, Pettis said this new way of being is actually what helped him decide to join the PFL.

Sure, departing his longtime UFC home was a difficult thing to do, but he was more ready now for such a move than he had ever been, he said.

“Showtime” feels more dangerous than ever, and he can’t wait to get things going in the PFL’s lightweight tournament.

“It really felt like a new tool in my toolbox, not a ‘Showtime’ kick, but something even more powerful: mindset,” Pettis said.

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Twitter: @Kelsey_McCarson

YouTube: Real Talk with Kelsey and Rachel