NASHVILLE – From October 2011 to December 2014, Anthony Pettis went on a streak that saw him conquering the UFC's lightweight title and defending it. During one of his main training partners was former One Championship and Bellator champ Ben Askren.
A lot has changed since that stretch. After losing the lightweight title and even taking a stab at the 145-pound division, Pettis is set to have his debut as a UFC welterweight, against Stephen Thompson. Askren, in turn, went into and out of retirement before finally joining the UFC. As of Saturday's UFC on ESPN + 6, Pettis and Askren will be fighting in the same division, under the same banner.
The two, however, still train together at Roufusport. And while teammates do not want to go against each other is hardly surprising in MMA, Pettis made an interesting addendum while categorically shutting down the idea of the two ever fighting each other.
"I would never fight Ben Askren, I'd save myself the embarrassment, ”Pettis told reporters, including MMA Junkie, during a media day ahead of Saturday's headliner at Bridgestone Arena. "That dude is an (expletive) monster."
How big of a monster, you ask?
"(He's) the type of guy that you can never count him out," Pettis said. "I spinning back kicked him one time, right in the chin, I could tell he was hurt, he double legs me, gets on top, and just starts grinding me out. He's one of them tough, deep-down guys. He's really good. ”We've seen proof of Askren's resilience just recently at UFC 235, when he survived an onslaught by former champion Robbie Lawler and route to snagging on his own in his octagon debut. Askren and Tyron Woodley, who lost their welterweight majesty on the same night of Askren's debut, is a good way to figure out where you stack up against bigger competition. And though their wrestling-heavy games pose a stylistic contrast to Pettis' striking game, it seems he's got some encouraging signs in that regard.
On the other hand, it can be challenging to craft a plan to get to the title when you're not that inclined to face some of the people who are making the climb with you. By taking on a two-time title challenger in "Wonderboy" Thompson (14-3-1 MMA, 9-3-1 UFC), however, Pettis (21-8 MMA, 8-7 UFC) sees a path around them to his destination.
"Well, neither of them are champ," Pettis said. “So there are ways to get to that belt. And my name, and where I'm at, a great win, I think I'm right there in the line for this. First, I've got to get through "Wonderboy." This is a big risk, going up a weight class to fight the No. 4 in the world, this is not an easy task. But I just feel amazing, man.
"The training camp went well, the weight right now feels good. My energy is like – I feel like I'm ready for a fight, and not for a weight cut, and that feels good. ”
hit the lightweight limit. The move didn't mean Pettis go to entirely forego cutting, as it didn't want to come in small against a big foe in Thompson. But, with just six pounds on Thursday, it certainly enjoys the extra energy that comes with being well-fed and watered up.
"I just had breakfast and I couldn't finish it," Pettis said gleefully. "That's how good this weight cut is going." Pettis, of course, isn't the first lightweight champion we've seen making the move up to welterweight. Just recently, Rafael dos Anjos made the same move and found some early success, going on a three-fight winning streak before suffering back-to-back losses to Colby Covington and champ Kamaru Usman.
Anjos's dose is now set to face former interim title challenger Kevin Lee at UFC on ESPN + 9. Lee, we know, has long been an advocate for the creation of an intermediate 165-pound division – and the meeting with a similarly-sized "RDA" seems like a good case For that.
Given Pettis' history competing at lightweight and relatively easy cut to 170, it would seem like a shoo-in for the 165-pound division. But, though he is not having more options with a new class, he is not necessarily campaigning for it.
"For me, I want to stay busy," Pettis said. “And I want to take two months to make weight. And then have a couple of weeks of actual technical training to get better than a fighter. All my training camps have been weight cuts, not a training camp.
"So it feels good to go out here and learn, and my mind is sharp, and not dehydrated and feeling like," Oh, I can't wait to Friday. 'Friday comes, I like crazy, and rehydrate, and then Saturday, you feel like crap. There is no way to bounce back from that. So I think, better than adding a 65 division, us as fighters, fight in your own weight class. ”
To hear Pettis' full chat with reporters, check out the video above.
And for more on UFC on ESPN + 6, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.