Anthony Pettis is a former UFC and WEC champion and one of the most popular, well-known mixed martial artists of the last decade.
The 34-year-old made headlines in late 2020, when he fought out his UFC contract and then signed an exclusive deal with PFL. The move brought a nine-year run in the UFC for Pettis to an end. He was only 26 when captured the UFC lightweight championship against Benson Henderson in his hometown of Milwaukee.
Pettis (24-10) will make his PFL debut on Friday, when he faces Clay Collardin the PFL’s 2021 debut, in his regular-season debut. The fight takes place in Atlantic City, and Pettis has been in quarantine for more than two weeks as part of the promotion’s COVID-19 protocols.
Ahead of this new chapter in his career, Pettis, who has thanked the UFC, president Dana White and former owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta for his time with the company, and he’s reflected on his career, his decision to fight for the PFL and what lies ahead.
Note: Pettis’ account, shared with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, has been edited for clarity and brevity.
I’ve actually enjoyed the quarantine, because I’m able to just focus on the task at hand. It’s my first fight with a new organization, and it’s brought on a new mindset.
One of the biggest differences is that I have no stress. I’m literally sitting in this hotel room with the least amount of stress I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m not saying the stress that I’ve felt along my career is bad. I had good fights in the UFC. I was getting big names and I was paid decently for what I did — but I’ve taken a step back and restructured things.
I kind of manifested this. I wanted to be in a place where I know how much money I’m going to make. I have my fight dates set. They’re booking travel for my next fight, and I haven’t even fought this one yet. It feels good to have that structure. There are no sporadic phone calls from a matchmaker, asking if I can make 155 pounds in three weeks. It’s amazing to not have to think about that. I was a fighter’s fighter in the UFC. I was an organizational fighter. You offer me a spot, I say, “Yes, set it up.”
I’ve gone down that road, and it wasn’t always for the best. Now, knowing the purse I’m going to make and who I’m going to fight, it’s a blessing.
This whole journey started when I lost my dad at 16 years old. He was killed in a house robbery, everybody knows the story. That’s when I found MMA and my coach, Duke Roufus. Coming up on the local scene, I tore it up. Fighting at Harley Davidson dealerships and the state fair — I had the whole city of Milwaukee coming out, watching my fights. Then going to the WEC and wanting the gold so bad, fighting five times in 12 months to get a title shot.
Going into the UFC and losing to Clay Guida, I learned so much from that fight. Winning the UFC belt in my hometown, can’t even describe how that felt. But when I fought Rafael dos Anjos in 2015, my mindset changed. I didn’t want to do the work to win that fight. I worked hard, but my mind wasn’t connected to the work. My body went through the motions, but I wasn’t there in that process and it showed. He whupped my ass. I can say that now and be OK with it. I suffered some injuries after that, and I have been trying to find my way back since, honestly.
My UFC career, I got the gold so fast, and the rest of it was me trying to find myself. And I think at this stage of my life, 34 years old, I’ve found myself.
When I was young and hungry, I was making decent money, but I wasn’t making the smartest choices. I was fighting the best in the world on short notice, cutting from 190 pounds to 155 pounds. If I could go back, I’d say, “What is our objective here? Obviously, we want to be the best in the world, but what about life after fighting?” I want to be able to sit back and chill and not get a job when this is over. So, I’m looking at it that way now. A business.
Look at Ben Askren. Look at what he made to fight Jake Paul. The most he’s ever made as a combat athlete, by boxing a YouTuber. The money is out there. I could have re-signed with the UFC and kept going after a belt, but when that’s said and done, I’ve got a wife with a baby on the way. I’ve got a daughter already.
Those are the things I’m considering when I’m making decisions about my legacy now. I won the UFC belt in my hometown. I landed the “Showtime” kick to win the WEC belt.
I know what I got paid for those fights, and I know how much it took to get to that position, and those two things didn’t always match up. Now, that’s happening.
The biggest thing I’ve picked up with this mindset change is I don’t give a f— what people think about me. That’s the reason this change from UFC to PFL was so easy for me. I’m in a spot where people’s thoughts don’t pay my bills. They don’t know what I’ve gone through, what I’ve put my body through for these fights. When I go home and see the WEC belt and the UFC belt in my house, those things aren’t worth anything [right now]. I can’t go around and say, “Hey, I’m the UFC champ.”
Once that’s gone, it’s gone. The general population puts so much into who the UFC champion is, which is how it should be. The UFC has been around the longest. But if you’re a fighter who believes the UFC is the only way, it’s not true. These other organizations are paying. There are other opportunities.
With the PFL, this was an opportunity to have a partnership with the promotion. These guys, the way they approach it, they’re asking me, “What are you looking to do? Beyond the tournament, what else are you trying to do?” They’re asking questions I wanted to hear asked, and I feel like I’m going to have an opportunity to do a lot of other things here. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.
I have a chance to be a champion in three organizations now. I feel like my fighting style, the way I represent myself as a martial artist, it’s a perfect time for me to go out and explore something new.
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