The erratic happenings of the UFC are demonstrated by the thrill ride Anthony Pettis finds himself on.
Pettis successfully defended his lightweight belt two years ago this week. Then he languished through a three-fight losing skid that had some questioning his viability. He figuratively stopped the bleeding with an August victory.
And now, his scheduled UFC 206 co-main event featherweight fight against Hawaii’s Max Holloway has been elevated to main event in Toronto, with the winner fighting newly stamped featherweight champion Jose Aldo next year.
“It’s been a crazy camp, and now it’s a crazy important fight. I don’t have any control over what the UFC does in handling its titles. For me, I’m here to fight Max Holloway and now there’s a belt on the line so it’s all that more enticing to me,” Pettis told the Los Angeles Times this week.
Pettis-Holloway was made the main event and designated a five-round interim featherweight title fight earlier this month when light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier suffered a training-camp injury and had to scrap his planned UFC 206 main event against Anthony Johnson.
On Saturday, the UFC, needing to place a fight of substance atop the pay-per-view card, announced that two-belt champion Conor McGregor of Ireland was vacating his featherweight belt and that the Pettis-Holloway winner would fight Brazil’s Aldo, who had a 10-year unbeaten reign stopped in December 2015 when McGregor knocked him out in 13 seconds.
“This is not about Conor McGregor,” Pettis said. “I’m ready to make things happen and make myself a two-division champion.”
Only McGregor, Randy Couture and B.J. Penn have accomplished the two-belt feat.
The 29-year-old Pettis (19-5) likes his chances even if the first test begins with third-ranked Holloway (16-3), who has won nine consecutive fights since an August 2013 loss to McGregor.
“I’m looking forward to taking on a guy who wants to fight, not hold me down,” Pettis said. “Most guys figure they’ll try to grind me down. Max Holloway is not that guy. This is a real fight. Max Holloway will try to strike with me, but I think once he feels my striking, he’ll be looking for those takedowns too.
“A guy that comes to bang like Max Holloway brings out the best in me, so I’m excited about putting on a show, especially with it being the main event.”
One of the aspects to watch is how Holloway’s intense desire to become a champion equates against a former champion who’s already accomplished the feat.
“He has an impressive win streak. It takes that hunger to win the belt. You have to have an obsession. And that’s the thing here — two guys who want that belt so bad, this opportunity to fight for the belt,” Pettis said. “It’s huge for both of us. I know once I lost it, all I’ve ever thought about is getting my belt back.”
Although he lost the only title fight that stretched into the fifth round — a decision to Rafael dos Anjos — Pettis said preparing for three prior title fights is an advantage.
Returning to his training roots by training in his hometown Milwaukee, with increased emphasis on nutrition, wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu, has emboldened Pettis.
“Ten extra minutes definitely changes the fight plan,” Pettis said. “I know how to go the distance. You’ve got to be in shape no matter what — with the adrenaline pumping, the arena, the crowd — you’re going to get tired. To me, mentally knowing I have 25 minutes to prove I’m better than this guy, it means not getting too excited, not looking to finish so fast, being smart.”