Only a fool would claim Anthony Pettis lacks confidence. The former UFC lightweight champion took an 18-2 record and the 155-pound title into his 2015 matchup against Rafael dos Anjos. Pettis lost that fight. When he faced Donald Cerrone in May 2020, Pettis was on a 4-8 run. During that stretch he fought at lightweight, featherweight, welterweight and twice at catchweight. At best, Pettis seemed like a man who was looking for a weight class to call home. At worst, it seemed as if he was playing out the string of a career that began in 2007 with a 24-second knockout win.
During that rough run, Pettis allowed his confidence to slip. Ahead of the Cerrone bout he said, “I need to get my confidence back. That’s what I’m focusing on now. I have to go back; quarantine made me re-address everything. Even when I practice, I’m better than most of the guys I train with. It’s just a matter of putting it together in the octagon when it matters.”
Pettis found that confidence. He beat Cerrone by unanimous decision and followed that on December 19 with a win over Alex Morono. In another display of the trust he has in his abilities as a fighter, those two victories came in the last two fights of Pettis’ UFC contract.
On December 22, three days after he defeated Morono, Pettis posted a letter to Twitter that read like a goodbye to the UFC. The next day Pettis signed with PFL.
The quick signing was a surprise — a pleasant surprise — because it was one of those rare times in MMA where everyone involved seemed to come out on the positive side of the ledger.
Normally the UFC would have an exclusive period to negotiate with a fighter at the end of that fighter’s contract. When that time expires, the fighter is free to pursue other offers. The UFC then has a right to match those offers, if there are any. It seems as if the UFC waived those rights or negotiated a deal with Pettis that dropped that matching clause.
That’s a win for the UFC because it gets Pettis’ contract off the books for 2020. It is also a public relations win for the UFC since it looks as if the UFC did not prevent the former UFC champ from inking a deal with the PFL when it could have held up Pettis and potentially cost him the opportunity to sign with the promotion.
With the signing of a former UFC champion who is on a winning streak, the PFL has a fighter who is a known commodity to fans who only follow the UFC. That gives the PFL someone to promote to those fans and should help the PFL potentially draw a bigger viewership, at least for its lightweight (where Pettis is expected to compete) season and tournament.
If Pettis wins the $1 million prize at the end of the season, that’s something the PFL could and should promote strongly. If Pettis loses in the run to the final, that’s still a win for the PFL as it can promote the fighter who potentially defeats Pettis as a favorite for the $1 million prize.
Pettis is betting big on himself and that too is a win. He could have played it safe and perhaps taken a cut in pay and stayed with the UFC and hoped he got a chance at another title. He also could have signed with another promotion and done the same thing — hoped the matchmakers would give him a shot at a belt. Instead, Pettis went all-in on himself.
“Honestly, I knew what I was looking for,” Pettis told SCMP MMA. “My goal right now at this stage of my career to become a champ.. I’m still young in this game, I’m back motivated and hungry to become a champion and the deal the PFL offered me was very, very fair. And the opportunity to become a champion in 12 months, that’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Everything is in Pettis’ hands with this signing. That’s a testament to his confidence that he will end the PFL season with a gold belt and a $1 million check.
That’s a respectable and admirable move.
Other UFC fighters:
The UFC has said it is going to release a fair number of fighters. Pettis, through his words and actions, made the PFL an attractive promotion to sign with and I hope his joining the PFL ranks inspires other “name” fighters to take a chance on themselves and follow Pettis to the promotion for its 2021 season. If that happens, those signings will also help the PFL promote its upcoming season.
As I said, Pettis joining the PFL is a win for everyone involved.