Not enough 'Showtime': Why UFC champ Anthony Pettis isn't yet a PPV star
Everything about Anthony Pettis reeks of stardom. His athleticism in the cage is breath-taking. His striking skills are jaw-dropping. Suits seem to drape over him like they were hand sewn by the most expensive Italian tailors. His grinning mug appears on the cover of a cereal box.
In his last four fights, he's won by knockout twice and submission twice and never once entered the third round. More impressively, those wins came over Joe Lauzon (first-round KO by head kick); Donald Cerrone (first-round TKO by body kick); Benson Henderson (first-round submission by arm bar) and Gilbert Melendez (second-round submission by guillotine choke).
Unless you're Ronda Rousey, it's hard to get much more impressive than that.
Yet, Pettis goes into his lightweight title bout against Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of UFC 185 Saturday in Dallas as somewhat of an enigma to the casual fan.
Rousey, the UFC's women's bantamweight champion, dwarfs him in popularity and name recognition. So, too, does featherweight contender Conor McGregor, whose trash talking has helped him skyrocket to stardom.
But Pettis isn't going to take the trash-talk route.
"That's not me," he said. "If I went out and talked crazy, I could get some attention, but then I'd be acting like something I'm not and I'm not interested in doing that."
So for him, the key is to get to the post on a regular basis and keep recording spectacular victories. When Pettis was making his reputation while fighting in the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting organization, he fought very regularly.
He appeared in six of the promotion's final 12 shows and five of the final eight, capping things on the last card in WEC history by pulling off the now-legendary "Showtime Kick" in the waning moments of a bout in Glendale, Ariz., against Henderson.
In a WEC career that spanned just 18 months, Pettis fought seven times. But since joining the UFC in 2011, he's only fought six times in four years.
"The layoffs he's had have hurt him in terms of [name recognition]," his coach, Duke Roufus, said. "Sometimes, people forget that still waters do run deep."
But Saturday's bout with dos Anjos is his second in three months, and he's ready to claim a new title: Pay-per-view king.
He's not going to get it in the fight with dos Anjos no matter how spectacularly he may win, but if he can remain injury free and continue performing at the level he's set his last four times out, that day when he is regarded as a pay-per-view king will draw ever closer.
"Basically, I just have to go out there every couple of months and keep fighting the top guys and winning the fights the way I have been and you'll see my star power go up," Pettis said.
UFC president Dana White said he believes Pettis is the most talented fighter in the sport. If White has anything to say about it, Pettis will soon become a household name.
White likes nothing better than a devastating finisher, and that's clearly what Pettis has proven to be. As he's matured as a fighter and improved his wrestling, he's become one of the sport's best finishers.
White praised his nemesis, Pettis teammate Ben Askren, for helping to add the missing element in Pettis' game. Askren, the One FC welterweight champion and a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Missouri, competed for the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics.
"If you're talking about the Anthony Pettis of four or five years ago, the guy from the WEC days, the thing he was lacking was the really good takedown defense, or the ability to pop back up quickly if he was taken down," White said. "I'll give Askren all the credit in the world, no doubt about it, because he's done a great job helping him. Wrestling with that guy for three or four years has made a huge difference in Anthony.
"And the thing is, he's so dynamic and fast and explosive, he can do some of those spinning back kicks to the body when he's in close quarters that he wouldn't have tried before, because now he's so confident in his wrestling. That's made him a different fighter."
Dos Anjos isn't a great match for Pettis, only because while dos Anjos is a legitimately difficult opponent he may be the one guy in the division with less name recognition than Pettis.
Pettis isn't concerned and his explanation of why he's not is astounding.
"I don't think I've fought to my full potential yet, to be honest with you," Pettis said. "I really don't. But I've learned and evolved and I've had such a great camp. I feel like I'm ready to bust out and take this to the next level."
What would legitimately stamp him as a star is a win over someone like McGregor, Roufus believes. McGregor fights champion Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 189 in July.
Roufus is convinced a Pettis-McGregor fight would be what it would take to make Pettis a mega-star.
"I think he's going to get there just if he keeps doing what he's doing, and he goes out there like [former boxing heavyweight champion] Mike Tyson did and destroys guys," Roufus said. "I really like Conor and what he's done for the sport. I believe Conor is a very good fighter, but he's a great talker. If down the road, that fight were to happen, I think it would be the fight that could push Anthony to the absolute top-level."
That means defeating dos Anjos on Saturday, staying healthy and fighting in another three or four months. Roufus said Pettis believes he has improved to the point that he could legitimately fight four times a year.
Pettis, who will be escorted to the cage Saturday by new Roufusport teammate and former WWE champion Phil "CM Punk" Brooks, is just eager to prove what he's believed for a long time.
"I'm just coming into my prime and I've learned a lot about training and fighting and life in general," Pettis said. "I want to go out there and do things that are going to leave a record that people will be talking about for a long time: Fight the best, run off a bunch of wins and become the guy that people can't wait to see."