When Anthony Pettis burst on the scene in World Extreme Cagefighting a little more than eight years ago as an undefeated prospect with quick-strike potential standing and on the ground, he was identified as a transcendent talent. Despite some unevenness, his career has largely lived up to those expectations.
The former WEC and Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder will meet Dustin Poirier in the UFC Fight Night 120 main event this Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Pettis, 30, last competed at UFC 213 in July, when he took a three-round unanimous decision from Jim Miller. A longtime protégé of former world kickboxing champion Duke Roufus, he has delivered 16 of his 20 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, 12 of them inside one round. Wins over Charles Oliveira, Donald Cerrone, Joe Lauzon and Jeremy Stephens buoy the outstanding Pettis resume.
As the man they call “Showtime” prepares to take on Poirier, here are a few of the moments that have come to define him:
No one can ever forget the first time Pettis encountered Benson Henderson in the cage. Their historic showdown in the WEC 53 main event on Dec. 16, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona, served as the perfect final chapter for World Extreme Cagefighting, as Pettis and Henderson fought tooth and nail until the end. Even so, only one man could leave the Jobing.com Arena as the last WEC lightweight champion. Both lightweights landed their share of clean blows and traded submission attempts across 25 memorable minutes. Back and forth they fought into the fifth round, with neither Pettis nor the defending champion establishing a clear advantage on the scorecards. Then it happened. With precious seconds ticking off the clock, Pettis sprang off the cage, kicked Henderson in the face and dropped the MMA Lab standout where he stood. Though the impact failed to knock out “Smooth,” but the term “Showtime Kick” entered the mixed martial arts lexicon forever. Pettis went on to win a unanimous decision, drawing 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 marks from the judges.
2. Within Arm’s Reach
Pettis once again provided the kryptonite for Henderson’s Superman in their long-awaited rematch. The Roufusport star submitted Henderson with a first-round armbar and captured the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown in the UFC 164 headliner on Aug. 31, 2013 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee. “Smooth” verbally submitted 4:31 into Round 1, as he was beaten for the first time inside the Octagon. “Showtime” withstood a relentless clinch game from the champion. He broke free late in the first round and delivered a series of blistering kicks to the body. A wild kick attempt left Pettis on the bottom, Henderson settling in his guard. In an instant, the challenger locked up the arm and, after a brief struggle, forced the submission. The defeat halted Henderson’s streak of seven straight wins and made Pettis the sixth undisputed lightweight titleholder in UFC history.
3. Mission Impossible
What seemed impossible became possible with Pettis. “Showtime” submitted Gilbert Melendez with a guillotine choke in the second round of their UFC 181 co-main event, retaining his lightweight championship on Dec. 6, 2014 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. A former Strikeforce and WEC champion who had never before been finished, Melendez asked out of the match 1:53 into Round 2. The Cesar Gracie disciple enjoyed success with repeated clinches, close-quarters punching exchanges and takedowns. Pettis, however, did not flinch and responded to the adversity in spectacular fashion. The gifted champion cracked Melendez with a short right hook in the second round and slowly started to establish his foothold in the fight. Later, he countered a takedown attempted by snatching and sitting down on the guillotine. Pettis then rolled into a mounted position, forcing the tap from “El Nino.”
4. Transition of Power
Rafael dos Anjos had an answer for everything Pettis threw his way. The Brazilian flawlessly executed the game plan designed by Kings MMA frontman Rafael Cordeiro, as he captured the lightweight championship with a unanimous decision over Pettis in the UFC 185 main event on March 14, 2015 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Dos Anjos pitched a shutout, winning all five rounds on all three scorecards. Pettis spun his wheels from the start and never recovered. Dos Anjos sent one left hand after another crashing into his face, secured nine takedowns and essentially manhandled the Roufusport representative across their 25-minute encounter. Per FightMetric, he outlanded Pettis in significant strikes, 90-54, and total strikes, 144-96. Dos Anjos also passed guard five times and moved to the Milwaukee native’s back in three of the five rounds.
5. Cold Realities
Max Holloway did what dos Anjos, Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza could not: He finished Pettis. Holloway buried Pettis with a volley of third-round punches, as he captured the interim featherweight title in the UFC 206 headliner on Dec. 10, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Pettis wilted 4:50 into Round 3, as he was stopped for the first time in his 25-fight career. Not much went right for “Showtime.” Holloway started piecing together punches in the first round and left him with significant damage to his right eye. More of the same followed in Round 2, where the Hawaiian sat down Pettis with a right hand, countered beautifully and worked over his body with punches. Making matters worse for the Milwaukee native, he retreated to his corner having suffered an apparent hand injury. Holloway took down the Roufusport star twice in the third before authoring the stoppage. He lit up Pettis with a body kick, backed him to the fence and unleashed with punches to the head and body that doubled over the former lightweight champion and forced referee Yves Lavigne to step in. When coupled with the fact that Pettis missed weight by three pounds, the decisive loss forced him to reconsider his decision to move to 145 pounds. He has since returned to the lightweight ranks.