The downside to being a fighter on a cereal box

After a disappointing debut season in the Professional Fighters League, Anthony Pettis starts his revenge tour against Irishman Myles Price on Saturday (AEST).

The former UFC champion known as ‘Showtime’ is one of the headline acts on a stacked PFL 3 card that also features two-time judo Olympic gold medallist Kayla Harrison.

Pettis spoke with Wide World of Sports from his Las Vegas training base about lessons learned and why PFL is “‘the hardest style of fighting there is.”

Former UFC champion Anthony Pettis and two-time Olympic gold medallist Kayla Harrison headline PFL 3, live on Saturday from 8am AEST. Every fight ad free, live and on demand, only on Stan Sport

WWOS: How is the preparation and the body? It’s been a bit stop-start with you in the last couple of years with not a huge amount of fights so how are you shaping up physically?

Pettis: I feel like I’m tuning into my body now. I just turned 35 this year and I’m a lot smarter in my approach to these fights. I’m not doing a crazy amount of sparring and the crazy things I used to do that put me in compromising positions.

My body feels amazing. I started camp in December for this because the format for PFL is a lot different than any other fighting sport.

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You have four fights, back to back, every two months and based on your performance you gain points. So in the fight you’ve got to really take care of your body which is hard to do because you’re obviously thinking about winning the fight.

But you’ve got to be smart in your approach because if you get hurt you’re out for the season and boom, it’s over.

WWOS: So like you said it’s been about less volume in training and just being smarter and very strategic?

Pettis: Yeah I brought in all my coaches here, just one-on-one. I used to do a team format in training but now it’s one-on-one style. So I’ve got my jujitsu coach here, my striking coach, my kickboxing coach, my wrestling coach and boxing coach, all here in Las Vegas. Doing one-on-ones, specifically for me, my sparring partners are here for me.

But honestly it’s been more of a boxing approach to this training camp. Boxers get paid way more than MMA guys for a reason and seeing how professional they are with their approach, it’s kind of what I’ve adopted to my approach this year.

More about details than just being physical in these training sessions. Not trying to win sparring sessions, more just understanding the science behind why you’re doing this kick, this punch, different positions and understanding the game.

WWOS: Myles Price has had plenty to say in the build-up. Doesn’t think he’s coming up against prime Pettis and that he’s a good match-up for you. Your response?

Pettis: When anybody fights Anthony Pettis – I was on the cover of the Wheaties box, I’ve got two world championships, I’m fighting the best version of everybody that comes.

They’re preparing for this, they know the opportunity that they have. Last year in PFL I fought the two toughest dudes and honestly I thought I beat Raush Manfio.

But the two snout shots he hit me with – it was a very close fight. It just gives me confidence. Clay Collard, that dude’s a beast. I give Clay a lot of respect for the way he fights and the way he handles himself.

My next opponent is really hard to find tape on. He hasn’t fought for two years, he’s coming off a win but I’m approaching this with a whole season view, not just next fight.

I’ve got 10 guys in my division, some are more striking-based, a couple more grappling-based. Once he feels my striking I’m expecting him to try and put me on the cage, put me on my back, so I’m just getting ready for all of it.

WWOS: I read an interview in which you admitted you might have underestimated the quality of the PFL fighters last year. Clearly you’re going in eyes wide open this time?

Pettis: I don’t think I underestimated the quality of the fighters, but I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into. I knew the format, that I’d be fighting every two months but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be.

I’ve won a lot of world titles, UFC world titles but this is the hardest style of fighting there is.

Fighting four times a year, every two months and whatever injuries happen you’ve got to figure it out. In other organizations you could take 3-4 months off and still hold your spot but not in this format.

In this format if you take time off or can’t fight, you’re out till the next season. So I would say this is the hardest competition I’ve ever been part of.

WWOS: It’s very tough and gruelling. Do you think this format is the future of the sport or does it need to be tweaked moving forward?

Pettis: I love this format. It’s cool to have the option because I’ve never been part of this format. Obviously there’s other organizations if guys want to try and climb their way to top-10 and hopefully get a world title shot.

Whereas this one you can be world champion in one year and then next year you’re another contender. So it’s awesome for us fighters to have options and last year was my first time doing it this way. Now I have some experience and know what to expect.

WWOS: I imagine you’re backing your own abilities but who are the other guys to beat in your division this year?

Pettis: The guys that I fought last year, Raush Manfio and Clay Collard. They’re the toughest guys in the division, both of them won last month, Raush got a knockout so he’s leading the division right now with four points.

Clay Collard got a decision over Jeremy Stephens who is a tough dude. I’ve beaten Jeremy before but I think Raush and Clay are the guys in this division. I’ve fought them before and thought I beat Raush so it gives me confidence to go back and do it again.

WWOS: No doubt you’re still looking to add strings to your bow, even late in your career. What are they – is it more mental than physical?

Pettis: Yeah mentally I’m growing as an individual. Earlier in my career I was a wild man, bro. My fighting style was show biz, the guy who took big risks – high risk, high reward.

But now I’m a lot smarter in my approach. There’s ways to win these fights without having to be so athletic or put your body at risk. This year I’m tuning into that.

WWOS: What’s the motivation at this stage of your career? You’ve got a young family to provide for but having the PFL/UFC double would be pretty special?

Pettis: Yeah I’ve got a WEC title too so this would be my third world title if I do it. That’s the legacy part of it but honestly it’s revenge, man. My motivation is revenge. I want Clay Collard and I want Raush Manfio. Both of those fights are what I want.

WWOS: Do you still get scared or nervous before these fights? Is it a different feeling than you got as a younger man?

Pettis: I still get nervous but with the fans being back in the arena this time, it’s going to feel normal. I haven’t had a fight with fans since December, 2019. It’s been a long time since I had a fight with fans so to be able to feel that energy, that’s what I drive off.

When I hear the fans cheer and go crazy, that amps me up. Last year no fans, the walk out was different, everything was different without fans.

I’m very excited to get back in the arena and give those fans a show.

WWOS: What about the whole vibe of PFL compared with UFC and putting on a show – and how much can the league grow in the next couple of years?

Pettis: The PFL is doing an amazing job. Through COVID they spent a crazy amount of money to put us in quarantine, 17-20 days before our fights. You’re talking about three fight cards, 10 guys per division and all their corners in a hotel for 17-20 days at a time.

They made me feel like an athlete, made all of us feel like athletes. It wasn’t trying to be cheap on that part of it to make these fights happen.

The arenas they use are amazing, the production is very dope and the business mind behind the PFL is what’s making them different and why they’re growing so quick.

They’ve got the ESPN deal in the US, the Stan deal with you guys in Australia – they’re making the right connections to get us in front of the audience without having to pay-per-view. It changes how many people watch the fights.

They’re smart to do that and the season format too so that the average fan can actually follow it.

WWOS: And in terms of adding more talent to the PFL, do you think the strategy will be to get the guys with big UFC reputations like yourself or is it more trying to get the emerging stars before they blow up?

Pettis: A little bit of both. I’m a promoter myself, I just started Showtime Fighting Championship. The job as a promoter is to create challengers. You have a champion, they’re dominant, the job is to create challengers.

They definitely want some star power but you’ve seen Jeremy Stephens come over, Clay Collard any myself so it’s a little bit of both. Some star power, guys that fans know but also the up and coming killers that are hungry for their luck.

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