Every so often, one fighter’s departure from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) seems to re-open everybody’s eyes to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there are viable options for fighters outside of the current mixed martial arts (MMA) monopsony. Anthony Pettis seems to have sparked that light again. In the weeks since he has announced his jump from UFC to Professional Fighters League (PFL), a lot of digital ink has been spilled on “Showtime.”
Honestly, we don’t think the interest has been this high in Pettis since he knocked out Stephen Thompson back in 2019.
The general vibe now is that Pettis will no longer be just another face in the crowded UFC Lightweight and Welterweight divisions, a dangerous former champion but one who found himself getting murked on the ground way too often. Now, in PFL he comes in as the biggest star of his division and a fan favorite (if not betting favorite, we’d wager) to win the million-dollar 2021 season. It might be a smaller pool, but he’s a much bigger fish now. It’s a status — and responsibility — that Pettis is eagerly embracing.
“Their format for becoming a champion, I can become a champion in 12 months,” he said on MMA Fighting’s “What the Heck” podcast. “It’s a season. I know when I’m gonna fight, it’s definitely a whole different experience for me having the tournament-style like this. And also I get to be the face of this company. I know there’s other big names in this, but I’m taking it on my own shoulders to be the face of this company.”
“I feel like it’s my job to make this company a household name and people want to tune in and know when the next PFL fights are happening.”
That chance to stand at the front of the company rather than getting constantly shuffled back into the pack with UFC was a big part of “Showtime’s” decision to leave the organization.
“I wasn’t getting cut, I wasn’t on the chopping block, I had an offer from UFC,” Pettis explained. “But that offer was like putting me back in the same rat race I’ve been in, if you will. I’ve been in that rat race. I know I was going down to 155, everybody’s trying to get that belt again. There’s some names in front of me. It would have been fun to go back and take care of some guys that I know I could have beaten and that I lost to, but when I made this decision I took all that emotion away from it.”
“I took away trying to be a champion in UFC, trying to come back from losses that I had, rematches that I wanted. What makes sense for my career? What makes sense for Anthony Pettis right now? It didn’t take long. I knew what my goals were and these guys are giving me a format for it.”
It’s big risk, big reward. In a year, Pettis could capture his fourth major world title and bank a $1 million prize on top of whatever sweet bout agreement he’s wrangled out of PFL. But, if he loses to one of the unheralded sharks also in the PFL Lightweight tournament, that’s going to hurt him a lot.
“I’ve had the best opportunities, I’ve gotten treated very, very well in UFC, taken care of very, very well,” he said. “Great opportunities. I grew up under them lights, them gloves are part of my life. Then deciding that I’m going to go see what’s next, the next part of my career, the next chapter of my career, turning the page onto the next part of my career, I was nervous. I still am nervous. Anything could happen.”