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On the heels of new sponsorship deal with Reebok, UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis promises busier 2015

UFC lightweight kingpin Anthony Pettis went one-on-one with to update fans on his new deal with Reebok, facing off against the Cesar Gracie camp, getting back into the cage, and that pesky knee injury that sidelined him for more than a year.

Anthony Pettis rocking a new pair of Reebok ZJet sneakers.
Anthony Pettis rocking a new pair of Reebok ZJet sneakers.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight titleholder Anthony Pettis understands your frustration.

The complexion of the mixed martial arts (MMA) landscape has changed dramatically over the last couple of years, to the point where a weekend without combat sports is the exception, not the rule. In fact, between local and national promotions, there will be a total of 10 major events in the month of July alone.

With that in mind, division titleholders should be fighting more, not less.

In a perfect world, anyway, but that's not reality in the fight game. Look no further than Pettis, who was forced to endure the brunt of "Where you at?" criticism after going under the knife last year to repair a bum knee. That layoff -- coupled with a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 -- has shelved "Showtime" for more than a year.

Good thing he's in his prime.

"I'm not 100 percent yet, I just started kicking again this week," Pettis told "My doctor cleared me to start training full speed, but I'm taking it slow, no rush, because I need to build my knee back up. Once it's better, I plan on fighting no less than two or three times a year, at the very least. I don't like not fighting."

Helping him in his quest back to the bright lights and big city of Las Vegas, Nevada, is sneaker giant Reebok, who inked a new sponsorship deal with Pettis earlier this month. The Roufusport product becomes just the second UFC champion -- behind Johny Hendricks -- to join the Reebok team.

Something Pettis calls "a great opportunity."

"Being able to train in a high-performance running shoe like ZJET will help me become a better fighter," he continued. "I have a long road back and it helps to be able to train with the right equipment. I'm honored to be wearing the Reebok brand because it means the company believes in what I do."

But not everyone is a believer.

That includes select members of the Cesar Gracie fight camp, who will join Gilbert Melendez on TUF 20, which began filming today (June 30, 2014) in "Sin City." Melendez is charged with coaching a cast of female strawweights, and will throw down against Pettis at the promotion's end of year pay-per-view (PPV) show.

So what about the inevitable confrontation with the Diaz brothers?

"I grew up in a bad neighborhood, so I'm not too worried about them," Pettis explained. "I'm not afraid of their team at all, and I'll have my team (Roufusport) there with me, including my brother and all my coaches. We're starting my fight camp there as well, so I'm sure it will be interesting TV."

But don't expect any televised brawls (like this one).

That's because Pettis made a promise to himself -- and his late father -- that he wasn't going to be one of those trash-talking thugs from the streets of Milwaukee, where he and his younger brother Sergio turned to martial arts to stay on the straight and narrow.

"Kids are looking up to me because I'm the first guy out of Milwaukee to make it in the UFC," he said. "I've got kids looking up to me, a UFC title to represent, and now a company like Reebok behind me. I have a legacy to protect, not just mine, but for the kids who look up to me."

It helped that Pettis had someone of his own to look up to.

"Before my dad passed, he told me what I'm supposed to do," Pettis reflected. "I''m definitely blessed, being in a position where I can change lives, just by how I talk to people, how I act ... I love that, I love being able to make an impact by the way I represent myself."

Pettis now has a chance to make an impact as a coach, too, thanks to a team of hungry up-and-coming strawweights on the promotion's combat sports reality show, an opportunity "Showtime" will use to help groom the next generation of female fighters.

"We're going to focus more on their output," said Pettis. "Conditioning will be a huge part. I want to make them better fighters and my coaches can help them clean up their technique, but we'll see what happens once we get out there and get going."

And after that?

Pettis has Melendez waiting for him, likely at UFC 182 on Jan. 3 of next year, a fight that he "won't have a gameplan for" because the goal is to "have fun and react." In addition, there are a couple of hungry challengers not far behind "El Nino," like Khabib Nurmagomedov, and one stubborn ex-champ who wants a third shot at redemption.

"I'm not worried about that," Pettis said dismissively. "My focus is on Melendez. What happens after that is up to the UFC."

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