While pro wrestling's legendary voice Jim Ross cemented the clever phrase as a commentating colloquialism to describe famed kickers from “Sweet” Stan Lane to the 1-2-3 Kid, it’s found no better living example than UFC 144 Knockout of the Night winner Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.
The former and final WEC lightweight champion spent his lifetime learning the complete curriculum of combative kicks. Pettis received his undergrad in taekwondo as a third degree black belt. Born and bred in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he received his Master’s from mentor, head coach, friend, former K-1 kickboxer, and multiple Muay Thai world champion Jeff “Duke” Roufus. Nowadays, he is writing his doctoral thesis in fight finishing with his 13-2 record including 10 stoppages. But, Pettis’ flashy, unpredictable, and often devastating kicks do not always originate from traditional martial arts because he began his formal education in something a bit more “extreme”.
“My style, my kicks, is all from what I used to do as a kid: XMA, Xtreme Martial Arts,” explains Pettis. “It's a mix of acrobatics and martial arts. As a kid, I did that growing up and I was really into it. Even before XMA was even called XMA. I did a lot of kicks and flips, a lot of crazy stuff. My style when I used to do point sparring in taekwondo was to land something that no one had ever done before. Now that my overall MMA game is better, I'm not afraid to take chances and I feel comfortable taking risks. My style is coming from my background. And, I'm still learning. I come up with new stuff almost daily. It’s a lot of stuff that I get to play with.”
At UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan, the 25-year-old gave the UFC’s lightweight division a taste of what’s in his catalog of concussive kicks with a Cro Cop-like, lightning quick, left high kick. It only took 81 seconds for Pettis to dispatch of Fight Night bonus king Joe Lauzon and remind everyone of why he was at the top of the WEC’s 155-pound mountain when it was absorbed into the UFC at the end of 2010. Now 2-1 inside the Octagon, Pettis admits the previous two appearances were atypical, but fight fans should be fully expecting to see a better “Showtime” than they remember. Possibly, an ambidextrous one.
“My plan was to switch him up by coming out southpaw and let my kicks go,” affirms Pettis. “I had been working my southpaw a lot, it’s another set of angles. My right side is very dangerous already, so I'm going to be even more dangerous if I can switch back and forth. That's why I felt really confident in switching up. I was baiting him with my hands and getting him to fight my hands. I saw him bite on my hands and it left him a little open for the kick and I was able to capitalize. I was coming off a loss from the Clay Guida fight and I went into the fight with Jeremy Stephens and my confidence wasn't 100%, so I fought the Stephens fight and just wanted to get the W on that. I think the Lauzon fight was my first time actually showing Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis in the UFC.”
Following the bonus-winning performance, he went back in the gym to help out the multitude of pro MMA teammates he has when Pettis discovered a nagging injury was much more serious than previously thought. “I got the MRI done and they came back saying that I had two tears in my labrum,” reveals Pettis, who decided to get the surgery to fix it and take the proper time off. While sitting on the sidelines for 11 months wasn’t ideal, it was necessary and it afforded him tons of me time to really work on his skills without worrying about an opponent. All healed up and itching for a fight, Pettis is excited to make 2013 a memorable one inside the Octagon.
“Even with the rest of last year off, I feel like I gained so much skill and so much knowledge,” says Pettis. “When you are getting ready for a fight, you can't really get better technically. But with a year off, I really focused on my technique. I think I'm comfortable on both sides and I'm even more dangerous now. I'm always evolving. I feel like my southpaw is as good as my right stance, so I'm getting better everywhere. I feel like I'm building off of that win and picking up right where I left off. The year off is not going to be a factor. I'm feeling great. I've been training. I only took that time to heal my body. I know I'm going to have a long career in this and I didn't want to rush back not healthy. I know that I want this to last. I don't want anything to decide my fights besides my skills, so I took the year off. I feel excellent. I'm ready to continue right where I left off in Japan.”
The highlight reel kicks like the one on Lauzon, and, the most famous of them all, the “Showtime Kick” that caught current UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, will live on in top 10 lists forever and ever, but fans and opponents alike should not forget the rest of Pettis’ MMA game. The techniques and skills that Pettis has been able to focus on in his time off were the only ones to defeat Henderson in 12 fights under the Zuffa banner. It wasn’t just jumping off the cage and landing a kick; Pettis won the rounds rumbling with “Bendo” for 25 minutes in the standup game, on the ground, and in the clinch. Don’t mistake it, “Showtime” has flash and substance.
“They don't have the tools that I have,” declares Pettis. “He (Henderson) is very dynamic and he's only getting better all the time. He's a good striker, he wrestles really well, he's very hard to submit, and very hard to finish. You take the top guys at the division and they all have holes in their game. I'm not saying I'm perfect; there are holes in my game. But you can watch the video of my fight with him and see how to beat this guy - he's not untouchable. Hopefully, no one does that before I get there. I'm not thinking ahead or past 'Cowboy', but that's one of the fights that I want to get.”
Before the seemingly inevitable “Bendo” rematch, Pettis must tangle with a different WEC warrior in Fight of the Night fixture Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. This Saturday on FOX, these scary strikers will blow the roof off of the United Center in Chi-town, Illinois. At 29 years old with an overall record of 19-4, 1NC, Cerrone has reeled off six impressive wins in seven fights inside the Octagon, and the Jackson-Winkeljohn product will just mark his two year anniversary in the UFC after this scrap. While his kickboxing was highly regarded before, Cerrone’s striking has become downright lethal with two Knockout of the Night bonuses, and, lest we forget, the Submission of the Night over Dennis Siver all started with a head kick landing flush and crumpling the German.
“He’s a very dangerous guy,” admits Pettis. “Really good, really tough. He's one of those guys who really doesn't have any holes in his game. He's very active, he always comes to fight, and he's always ready to fight. He's not going to come out of shape and not come ready to fight. He's going to come to fight. He's going to be a tough fight for me and I'm preparing for him to be one of the toughest fights of my career. But they all are. At this level, every fight is tough.”
While this card is stacked with fireworks-friendly fights, without a doubt just the mere thought of “Showtime” vs. “Cowboy” should give every Octagon enthusiast chills. On paper, 25 of their 39 fights have ended via scintillating stoppage, which is why these young lightweights have been beloved by fans in the WEC and the UFC. Besides the always lingering title implications, Cerrone has a knack of making each and every one of his bouts appear personal, whether they are or not. Those established pre-fight antics may be simply to hype the bout, be a strategic mind game against his opponent, and/or to get himself riled up, but it won’t affect Pettis’ gameplan of letting his fists and feet talk for him in the cage.
“I'm not going to let that change the way I'm going to fight him,” states Pettis. “I'm not that guy who needs to hate my opponent or has to picture beating them all the time. I've been competing my whole life, I've been fighting different guys my whole life, I've been training my whole life - I don't need that extra motivation. Just because he's talking crap and I don't like the guy, I don't need that to fuel my fire in training. I'm motivating myself. I don't need that motivation to fight someone. When you sign your name on that contract, that's all the motivation I need. You accepted to fight me and that's the worst decision of your life.”
As always, Pettis can be found fine-tuning his bevy of gravity defying kicks in his hometown at Roufusport, where he is a part owner. Obviously, he is getting the necessary quality striking sparring at a Roufus run gym with its plethora of kickboxers, plus teammates like UFC featherweight Erik Koch, UFC welterweight Pascal Krauss, and Pettis’ undefeated bantamweight younger brother, Sergio. On the ground, Pettis routinely rolls with the former two-time NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler, 2008 US Olympic team freestyle wrestler, brown belt in BJJ, and undefeated in MMA welterweight Ben Askren. With all that’s said of his striking, Pettis has just as many submission wins as knockouts, and it’s that security in his abilities on the ground that allows for him to really open up while standing.
“I think I have a whole arsenal of weapons that would work that I haven't thrown, but I just haven't had the opportunity,” says Pettis. “You only have 15 minutes out there and it's hard to show everything you have. It's hard for any guy to prepare to fight me because there are not guys that strike like me. It's easy to find a kickboxer, a boxer, a boxer/wrestler, but it's hard to find someone who strikes like me. You don't know where the kicks are coming from, what pace they're coming at, and they're not basic combos. They're more advanced and they work for me. I definitely have a whole lot of strikes that people haven't seen. I'm excited because I'm working on my wrestling, I'm working on my jiu-jitsu, and I'm constantly getting better everywhere, so I can do whatever I want to do in the cage. If you're fearless in there then big things happen. If you're afraid to take chances then you'll never know what you could have done.”
This Saturday in “The Madhouse on Madison” in Chicago, two of the lightweight division’s fastest rising stars will collide for guaranteed fireworks. “You put a guy like 'Cowboy' and guy like myself, 'Showtime', into the cage and fans know what to expect,” asserts Pettis, who knows the match is lit, it’s been burning hot for a while, and the powder keg will be ready and waiting inside the Octagon come fight night. “He's a very talented dude, and I'm a very talented guy. No one is expecting anything less than a hell of a fight.”
And if ol’ J.R. was calling UFC on FOX, he undoubtedly would dub Pettis/Cerrone a “slobberknocker”.
Anthony Pettis: Don't Call It a Comeback
"He's going to be a tough fight for me and I'm preparing for him to be one of the toughest fights of my career. But they all are. At this level, every fight is tough." - Anthony Pettis