On August 31, 2011, Anthony Pettis scored a knockdown on Benson Henderson in their WEC title-fight that was so ridiculously high-flying and acrobatic that it resembled a movie scene more than a real fight. Pettis chased Henderson, but when "Smooth" circled away from the cage fence, Pettis himself jumped with one foot on the chain link wall, pushed off of it and then kicked Henderson in the face with that same leg.
No one outside of Pettis' teammates had ever seen a kick like that, and it was dubbed the "Showtime kick" in reference to Pettis' nickname. Since then, Pettis has added more highlight reel kicks and finishes to his resume, and he's known most for his fight-ending flash.
Still, opponents and savvy observers know that there's a lot more to Pettis than his most exciting techniques. Take a look beneath the surface of one MMA's most exciting fighters as he readies for his UFC 206 main-event showdown this Saturday.
Read on and learn how and why Anthony Pettis is so much more than his "Showtime kick."
1. Pettis has mastered the fundamentals
"Showtime" Pettis is known for being flashy, but for every highlight kick, the Roufusport protege quietly pulls off several more perfectly-executed basic maneuvers to set it up. In the above video, Kenny Florian explains how Pettis' solid body kicking fundamentals, for example, pave the way to his nasty finishes.
2. Pettis has ground skills
Pettis is one of the best strikers in the UFC, but has even more submission wins than he does (T)KOs. He was able to finish Benson Henderson with an arm bar off his own back after landing a series of body kicks, and won his last fight over submission wizard Charles Oliveira via choke.
3. Pettis' work ethic is peerless
(Pettis' nutrition coach Lou Giordano talks about Showtime's discipline, and focus)
While speaking with Pettis' nutrition coach, Lou Giordano, the other week, we got an earful about the fighter's discipline. It isn't easy for Pettis to make weight since moving down to featherweight, but Giordano says that "you never hear Anthony complain - not during training, not while cutting weight, not in the sauna, never." Pettis has goals, and he works as hard as it takes to achieve them.
4. Pettis can focus through incredible turmoil
In this current training camp for Max Holloway, Pettis has had three cars firebombed in his driveway, two other cars broken into weeks later. He's also had two rounds added and a pound allowance taken away from him on short-notice when he and Holloway's bout was moved up to an interim title main event at UFC 206. We're told that Pettis insisted on staying in his house despite the danger surrounding it, and hasn't missed a single workout. That's some incredible focus and determination.
5. Pettis is a legit threat to win titles at two weight classes
Very few fighters over the course of MMA history have managed to win world titles at multiple weight classes. By and large, MMA weight classes are separated by many more pounds than are boxing ones, so it means a lot more when a fighter can go up or down a full class.
Pettis is already a former lightweight champion, and hasn't ruled out moving back up, but only after he fulfills his goal of becoming champ at featherweight, as well. With a win over top contender Oliveira, Pettis got himself closer to a shot at a real world title at 145lbs.
Though few will count the interim title on the line at UFC 206 as a real championship because of the convoluted title picture created by the UFC at 145lbs (Conor McGregor won the lineal title less than a year ago, but Jose Aldo was given an interim title in July. Now, McGregor has been forcibly stripped of his title, and Aldo has been given a full champion's title, while Holloway and Pettis fight for the second featherweight belt to be created in the past five months...yeesh), Pettis will certainly be deserving of a real title shot should he beat the white hot Holloway.
6. Pettis is a leader in the gym
While visiting Pettis' Roufusport home gym in 2015 to partake in a pro team training, we witnessed Pettis' leadership up close and personal. Many top fighters like Jon Jones, have reputations for only being in the gym when they themselves need help preparing for fights, and don't sacrifice their time and body for the benefit of their teammates.
Pettis did not have a fight coming up at the time of our visit, but was still at practice, demonstrating techniques with head coach Duke Roufus, sparring with teammates - from young guys starting out to the likes of Tyron Woodley. In fact, no one put in more rounds than Pettis and Woodley did that day. Pettis still trains as hard as a hungry amateur, and that makes him a leader by example.
7. Pettis works on his weaknesses
Pettis entered the UFC as the WEC lightweight champion back in 2011 after scoring his "Showtime" kick against Benson Henderson in their first fight. His debut didn't go very well for him, however, as he was repeatedly taken down and stifled by Clay Guida, en route to losing a decision.
Pettis continued to struggle with top takedown artists against the likes of Eddie Alvarez and Rafael Does Anjos in recent fights. So, he went to the wrestling coach of the first man to shut him down with takedowns - Guida - and is working hard to become a better wrestler.
Pettis currently works with Izzy Martinez, coach of high school powerhouse Montini Catholic in Chicagoland. After Guida put Martinez on the pro MMA map and introduced him to teammates, Izzy became the wrestling coach to other champions like Jon Jones, Andrei Arlovski and Holly Holm. Pettis does whatever it takes, including hiring his opponents' coaches, to become better and erase weaknesses.
8. Pettis maintains a champion's confidence through rough patches
In just over a year, Pettis recently lost his lightweight championship and three-straight fights. Still, he never stopped believing in his abilities, and managed to rebound in a big way last August with a big submission win over Oliveira, setting him up for title contention once again.
9. For all his aggression, Pettis is a patient fighter
Pettis doesn't just score dramatic knockouts, he patiently sets them up. The kickboxer rarely overextends himself or takes unnecessary risks. Instead, he uses superior technique to force opponents to open themselves up, and the stoppage wins just flow from there naturally when he exploits those mistakes.
10. Pettis has heart and conditioning, for days
Make no mistake, Anthony Pettis likes to get opponents out of the fight early, and he's good at it. Still, when he needs to grind out a close fight (as he did against Jeremy Stephens), he does it. Beyond that, Pettis is more than a bully - he can also take a beating and keep on ticking. Take, for example, his rough title loss to dos Anjos in 2015. Pettis was hurt quite early in the fight and took a beating for five, straight rounds.
Still, at no point did he appear close to giving up, nor did he stop trying to win. Pettis has metaphorical heart and superb cardiovascular conditioning, as well as Midwestern grit to go with his slickness.