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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief and Rich Hansen, MMATorch Columnist
Lost in the constant discussion about the Lightweight Title picture in the last week was just how impressive Anthony Pettis was in his UFC 144 win over Joe Lauzon to close out last month. After a loss to Clay Guida and a less-than-thrilling split decision win over Jeremy Stephens, it was looking like some of the flare and excitement that Pettis had brought to the cage in his WEC run was being nullified inside of the Octagon.
Instead, he threw Lauzon off completely by coming out of the gate in a southpaw stance, and it only took a minute and 21 seconds before he nearly separated Lauzon's head from his shoulders with a high kick. It was almost as if that was the plan.
"Yep," Pettis' coach Duke Roufus confirmed to MMATorch's Rich Hansen late last week. "Swear to God. Same with when he fought Danny Castillo. Now, this time he fought from a southpaw stance. Anthony's been boxing a lot, as well as doing a lot of Muay Thai. He's doing a lot of what I call 'Dutch Kickboxing.' He's really embraced Muay Thai, and all the little subtleties. Even the spiritual side of it. He's trying to be just like the Thai fighters. He's trying to get what he calls 'the swagger' of the true Thai fighter."
"[Anthony was going to work southpaw] until he didn't feel it anymore. Or, maybe switch once in a while," Roufus continued in regards to their strategy against Lauzon. "[It was] his call. That's one of the things we worked on. Like, I can help Anthony in a lot of different ways. But I'm trying to teach Anthony to be his own quarterback. I want him to be like Peyton Manning where he can audible when he feels it. He told me [after the fight] that he set him up. He threw the punch combo and he set him up for the kick.
"I want Anthony... I want to high-five him instead of over-coaching him. Because, if he can't find it himself, I'm not going to find it for him. And that's why I'm really trying to get into that spiritual style of fighting. Kind of like Muhammad Ali. He'd just fight his fight and then figure it out [during the fight]. See, I'm trying to get Anthony to be a flow-fighter, just figure it out as it goes along... He's working on [fighting southpaw] a lot. He wants to fight from both stances equally. He's working on jiu-jitsu equally from every position. He's really working on that."
Roufus praised Pettis' growth since dropping that decision to Guida in his UFC debut last June, pointing to the decision loss as a true turning point in the 25-year-old's career.
"I'm really proud of Anthony," Roufus said. "You know most people, they would be harder to teach... He turned 25, and ever since the Guida setback, it really - you hate to sound cliche - but it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. He wasn't arrogant or anything; it just made him really extra focused... And from wrestling with Askren, Anthony's wrestling is getting way better. And, you know what, the fight with Jeremy Stephens, it wasn't the Showtime that everyone wanted, but, and this is going to sound very weird, it was a scrimmage for us, and I'll explain.
"I want Anthony to work on taking guys down, get top position. Doing things that you never see him do. But here's the thing. This fight, he fought southpaw. You watch Alan Belcher when I coach Alan, last fight he worked on top position against a guy with a dangerous guard (Jason MacDonald). The fight before that he came out southpaw against Cote as a Muay Thai stylist, and then he took Cote down and then choked him out. And in the fight before that he fought [Wilson] Gouveia and he boxed left handed. You know, he's always showing [something different]. That's what I want to do with the fighter's I'm training. I don't want you to be able to hone in on one style. That's how I'd beat guys."
Pettis' win put him in the veritable mix in the UFC's lightweight division, and had the UFC not gone with a rematch between Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar, Pettis may have gotten his shot at the belt. However, Henderson publicly stated in multiple interviews that he didn't think Pettis should have been the next in line, and Roufus echoed statements from Pettis' manager on how those sentiments sat with the young challenger.
"It's definitely under his skin," Roufus said. "Anthony has gotten personal about it, and [you can] expect a more personal Anthony Pettis to start showing up to the Octagon. Anthony's actually made some life changes. He's learned what stardom is about, and it's a pretty plastic world. Anthony is drawing back into his family and himself right now, and he's very focused on his goals You're going to see him bring a little more angst into the cage from now on. He wants to do to more people what he just did to Joe. I think Benson said at the press conference 'oh yeah, Pettis, this guy, that guy.' Well, now you're backpedalling, because you get home, you talk to your manager Malki Kawa, and now you've got a different tune here."
Ultimately, Pettis wasn't given the fight against Henderson, and he'll now be looking to keep himself active in the lightweight division. Though he doesn't have an opponent lined up, Roufus says Pettis does know when he'd like to return.
"Anthony wants to fight by Memorial Day weekend," he said. "He just wants to fight right now. That fire within himself, he wants to knock off four fights a year if he can."
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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