“DID YOU SEE THAT?! He went up the wall like a ninja and landed a high kick! Unbelievable! I’ve never seen anything like that! It’s like something out of a movie!!” This was the actual televised play-by-play call when Anthony “Showtime” Pettis landed what has become known as “The Showtime Kick.” That kick, which many consider the greatest highlight in mixed martial arts history, helped him attain the unofficial title of the Most Exciting Fighter in MMA. But with his victory over UFC superstar Ben Henderson this past September, Anthony has now gained a more official title: The reigning, defending UFC Lightweight Champion of the World.
Outsiders may think the 26-year-old’s rise to the top is some kind of overnight success story. However, Anthony’s fans know that it has been a long, hard road to greatness that began at the age of five, when he first put on a Taekwondo uniform and continued through personal tragedy, injuries, and many other setbacks. It has been ten years since the day Anthony’s journey took a life-altering turn at the age of 16, when his father was tragically killed in a robbery. To pay homage to the man who first encouraged him to become a martial artist, the first thing Anthony did the night he won the title was visit his father’s gravesite and lay his UFC belt by his headstone.
The Milwaukee, Wisconsin native has always made it a point to honor the influential people and the city that helped him get to where he is today. DUB got the chance to catch up with Anthony as he adjusts to his new role as world champion and prepares for his first title defense against Josh Thomson on UFC on FOX 9 in December.
One of the first things fans learn about you is how important your parents are to you. Can you explain the importance of visiting your father’s gravesite right after winning the belt?
Most fighters get to share that moment with their dad in the arena. I don’t have that luxury. But martial arts helps keeps me close to my dad. I’m just trying to say, “Thank you!” and “Look how I’ve done!” I feel connected and close to him at his gravesite.
How did your parents support your love of martial arts when you first started?
My dad was very competitive. He’s the one who would take us [his older brother, Rey and younger brother, Sergio also trained Taekwondo] to all the tournaments. My mom was like, “Have fun! Win or lose, it doesn’t matter.”
Just like your parents were influential in your early years of martial arts, how has your coach Duke Roufus influenced your MMA career?
Man, I trust Duke with my life. He took me from a kid who was 18-years-old that didn’t know what to do with his life to the WEC Champ at the age of 23, to the UFC World Champ at the age of 26. He’s done a lot for me.
Can you also talk about teaming up with Duke to open up your Showtime Sports Bar?
One of Duke’s friends came up with the idea to open up a sports bar dedicated to mixed martial arts and other sports. It’s a great place to watch the fights in Milwaukee. I’m there when I’m in town. My brother is there. You can come watch the fights with the fighters.
Tell us about your rides. Let’s start right off the bat with your Dodge Charger.
I remember the day I picked the Charger up. I felt like it was the best car ever. I’ll probably always keep the Charger because it was my first really nice, brand-new car. I got the widebody on it, the 22s, and the airbag system. It is a quick car. It’s got the Hemi in there. I’ve never seen a Charger like this around Milwaukee. It fits me well.
Where did you get the work done for your Charger?
Toyo Tires hooked it all up. (The Charger) was up in L.A. for two months and they did it all: the sound, the widebody, and air ride suspension. They’re a big sponsor of the UFC, and they picked me up early. I’ve had this relationship with them from my first UFC fight to my title fight.
How does your Cadillac Escalade fit your persona and style?
There are a couple things: My dad’s favorite car was always a Cadillac and I needed more of a family car for when I’m with my daughter so she could watch TV while I drive. I chose the Escalade because of that. It’s my everyday driver right now. Black-on-black is my thing. I always get black cars with black rims.
How does your flat-black Infiniti G37x Sedan fit into your collection?
It’s all-wheel-drive and was my car while the Charger is put (in storage) for the winter. We get a lot of snow (in Milwaukee) in the winter. You need all-wheel-drive here.
So what’s the story behind your Smart Car? It’s not everyday that we see one rimmed up and wrapped in flat black.
My little brother [MMA fighter Sergio Pettis] wanted a car. I told him not to get a loan so we went half on it. I was looking online and came across Justin Bieber’s Smart Car. So it’s half-mine, half-his. But he just signed with the UFC, so I think he’ll be upgrading the Smart Car pretty soon.
Finally, after all the struggles you’ve been through to make your dream of being UFC World Champion a reality, how did it feel to finally achieve that goal and to do it in front of your hometown?
Fighting in front of Milwaukee, the way I won, you couldn’t write a better story. I wouldn’t say it’s a storybook ending because it’s just the beginning. I have a fight coming up December [14th]. I’m 26-years-old and coming into my prime. I want to stay active. Stay hungry.