Interview: Anthony Pettis reacts to PFL buying Bellator, reveals Karate and boxing future

Check out our exclusive interview with former UFC lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis, ahead of his Karate Combat 43 trilogy bout with Benson Henderson.

By: Eddie Mercado | 3 months
Interview: Anthony Pettis reacts to PFL buying Bellator, reveals Karate and boxing future
Anthony Pettis chats with Bloody Elbow's Eddie Mercado ahead of his Karate Combat 43 | IMAGO/USA TODAY Network/xChristopherxHanewinckelx, IMAGO

Anthony Pettis has graced the cover of the iconic Wheaties box, captured lightweight world titles in both the WEC and UFC, and even scored a boxing dub over legendary pugilist Roy Jones Jr. ‘Showtime’ is now continuing on with his combat sports journey in the Karate Combat pit for a trilogy bout with fellow former champ, Benson Henderson, at KC 43 on December 15th. Before negotiating the 45-degree embankments that are the KC pit walls, Pettis caught up with Bloody Elbow to discuss all things past, present, and future.

I asked Anthony Pettis about how in the world did he find himself taking a Karate match, and of course about his stylistic matchup with Bendo. Despite being 2-0 against Benson, Showtime talked about a new southpaw approach he has in store. The pit walls are still in their infancy in terms of how we’ve seen them utilized, and with Anthony Pettis being the guy that popularized pushing off the MMA cage to throw a strike, we went over some different ways in which the KC embankments could play a part.

I inquired about whether or not we would see him on more than one Karate Combat card, and Pettis explained his unfortunately uncommon situation. Although he is still under contract with the PFL, he is free to compete in other combat sports, so long as it’s not MMA. Anthony Pettis also hinted at an upcoming boxing bout being announced after his Karate Combat contest.

The PFL just bought Bellator. Anthony Pettis was present when the WEC was bought out by the UFC, so he has experienced a merger like that before. With his brother Sergio Pettis competing for Bellator, we asked him if he the other had any advice for his broski. This article was already getting long, so for that part, and for more Anthony Pettis, you will have to peep the video.

Anthony Pettis chats with Bloody Elbow's Eddie Mercado ahead of his Karate Combat 43
Anthony Pettis chats with Bloody Elbow’s Eddie Mercado ahead of his Karate Combat 43 | IMAGO/USA TODAY Network/xChristopherxHanewinckelx, IMAGO

Traveling down memory lane, we talked about how a super fight between Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo almost happened, but Phil Davis of all people was involved in that dream matchup falling through. Anthony Pettis also spoke about a desire for rematches with past opponents Charles Oliveira and Tony Ferguson, and mentioned how Conor McGregor was the one fight that he always wanted, but just missed.

You can catch the Anthony Pettis vs. Benson Henderson trilogy bout on the Karate Combat 43 card, which is happening in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15th. The co-main event for this event will see KC middleweight champion, ‘Turbo’ Ross Levine, compete against UFC veteran ‘Smilin’ Sam Alvey for the vacant KC heavyweight title. The entire will be streamed for free on Karate Combat’s YouTube channel, and Bloody Elbow will be on location with BTS coverage.

Anthony Pettis video interview

Anthony Pettis vs. Bendo trilogy?

Eddie Mercado: I did not see this matchup coming down the Karate Combat pipeline, but here we are. How did this trilogy even become a thing?

Anthony Pettis: I think behind the scenes, man, they hired their new president and you know, he’s one of those guys that just understands the playing field of Mixed Martial Arts. I mean, he’s got one of the best gyms right now with the Goat Shed, and his promoting skills of just his gym alone is crazy. So you know, I think he had the idea, and then he reached out.

He had a couple of guys in the background. Dean Toole’s a good friend of mine. They brought the idea over to me, and I said, ‘I love it.’ I’m a free agent, you know, I’m allowed to do Karate Combat. I’m allowed to box. I’m allowed to, you know, do my PFL MMA fighting. So it was just one of those perfect opportunities. And it was in my hometown, My new hometown of Las Vegas against Benson Henderson. I was like, ‘Yo I can’t say no to that.’

Anthony Pettis on boxing plans, beating Roy Jones Jr.

EM: Not only did you box the legend Roy Jones Jr. but you beat Roy Jones Jr. How surreal was that moment?

AP: That was insane, you know, because like I grew up watching Roy Jones. You know, Roy Jones beat Trinidad. All of us in in Puerto Rico, like all the Puerto Rican people was like, man, ‘thank you so much for beating Roy.’ I’m like, ‘yeah, he was a little older, but yeah I did it.’

Just thinking of that, I’m like man it was in my hometown, beating a guy like Roy Jones Jr. Like a legend of boxing. And you know, the opportunity that came my way just because of what I’ve done in my mixed martial arts career. Because Roy fought Mike Tyson before me. I’m like, ‘oh, there’s no way I’m going to knock this guy out. So let me get smart and use my boxing and my footwork,’ and I played it perfectly, bro.

I fought him at 200-pounds, too. My highest weight class was 170, so I was already out of my weight class. Went two to three weight classes up, and you know, a guy like Roy Jones with all the experience he had was huge.

EM: Did you like not having to cut all that weight?

AP: Oh man, that was the best bro. Like I literally was gaining weight. I got to lift that whole training camp. I was lifting weights. I’m not the one for like beach muscles, but like I could lift and like get my body feeling good. Because when I do strength conditioning four times a week, I feel the best like my body feels the best. And then once I’m cutting weight, I gotta pull it back, you know two times a week or one time a week. Cardio base. Then all the injuries hurt and everything feels different. So yeah, I felt great during that camp.

EM: So what weight are you and Bendo fighting at?

AP: 171. It’s a 170 catchweight because there’s is a 165 weight class. He wanted it at 170. I was up for either one because I plan on boxing at 168 for my next one. So I was like, that’s already in line to cut that weight. So that’s a perfect weight for me.

EM: Do you have an opponent already for that boxing match?

AP: I can’t announce it yet, but yeah, will be announced after this Karate Combat.

Anthony Pettis vs. Jose Aldo was thwarted by Phil Davis

EM: Jose Aldo was also on that boxing card. How close were you two to competing against one another back in the UFC days?

AP: Yeah, we were actually going to fight. Yeah. So like, I just beat Donald Cowboy Cerrone, but Ben Henderson was fighting TJ Grant in Milwaukee, WI. So I would have had to wait for that fight to happen. So I’m like yo, I called out Jose Aldo. I just texted Dana. I was like, ‘hey bro, I can beat Aldo.’ I think that was the exact text. Like, ‘he’s good, but I can beat him,’ and that set that whole thing up.

So I fly out to Brazil to go do the press conference. We square off, we do everything. And I rolled with Phil Davis at my coach Diego Moraes’ gym out in Brazil. And I put Phil in like this weird like knee bar, like kind of a calf slicer, but he just straightened his leg out, and tore my LCL and I got pulled out that fight, man. But yeah, it didn’t happen. God’s plan and you know, Jose Aldo, all respect to that guy, bro. Like he’s one of those guys that’s a pioneer of the sport.

Anthony Pettis vs Conor McGregor

EM: Is there one matchup that got away from you that you always wanted?

AP: Conor McGregor. That was one that was like, he was right after me, you know. He blew up after my little sh—y downslide of my career, but Conor McGregor would be a fun one. Charles Oliveira, you know I submitted him. Tony Ferguson, we had a great fight. I broke my hand on that one, so there’s a bunch of those like little ones where I’m like yeah, I wish I could get that back before it’s all over, but you know, we’ll see what happens.

PFL buying Bellator

EM: You were around when the WEC was absorbed by the UFC. The PFL just announced that they have bought Bellator, where your brother Sergio competes. Having experienced a buyout like that, what sort of advice do you have for your brother, and maybe the other fighters on the Bellator roster?

AP: [See video.]

MMA: UFC 164-Henderson vs Pettis Aug 31, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Benson Henderson (right) fights Anthony Pettis during the UFC-164 bout at BMO Harris Bradley Center. at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee BMO Harris Bradley Center WI USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY 7411132
Anthony Pettis vs. Benson Henderson 2 back in 2013 | Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

2-0 vs. Bendo, and the difference this time around

EM: You beat Bendo standing in the first fight in the WEC, and then you finished him on the ground in the rematch in the UFC. Is it a stylistic thing, or do you just have his number?

AP: I don’t know, man. That’s a good question, because Ben’s a gangster, man. We’ve seen Ben in some wars, bro. He’s fought the who’s who, just like I have, man. He went to Bellator and fought the who’s who over there, as well. Let’s just say it was God’s plan for those fights.

I think for Ben, the thing that’s gonna be different in this one is like I usually fight MMA with my right foot in back, because I have my power shots with my right foot in back. But my Karate style and like points style sparring, I fight with my right leg forward, so I think he’s gonna see a big mixture of bot styles and both matchups in this one. So I’m excited to see how he adjusts to me fighting southpaw, and throwing the kicks that I throw. 

EM: Bendo was ahead of his time when it comes to the calf kicks. Like he was doing calf kciks before the rest of the world caught on to how effective they were. In Karate Combat, you’re not allowed to kick to the thigh, but the calf is fair game. What are some of the things you’ve been doing to kind of hone in on the specific ruleset for KC?

AP: I live in Vegas. I’ve been dealing with calf kicks. All these guys throw calf kicks out here, bro. A lot of them are just doing calf kicks. So like when we fought in the UFC, he threw an inside low kick, and he threw it really low to like my shin area, where I was like, ‘I’m not gonna check this because it doesn’t make sense to check.’ And it did some damage, bro. It tore my PCL in that one round in the UFC fight. I knew from then and there, I’m like these kicks actually work. Like these kicks can do some damage.

Showtime off the KC pit walls

EM: You’ve always been a creative fighter, whether setting up submissions, or the Showtime kick, or the Superman punch that KO’d Stephen Thompson. Tell me some ways you can use the pit to your advantage?

AP: Yeah, bro, I mean basically anything I can do off the cage. I got way more leap because I now have an angle, right? It’s not a straight on object where I gotta like figure out, get to my hip on it. Like I get to actually spring off this thing. So I mean from jump spin kicks. The thing that I’m, not worried about, but it’s gonna be new to me, is like backing up into that.

So if I let him run me down and I’ll end up on my back, and we’re in a weird spot. There’s not much you can do from there, but up kick and, try to sweep if you can. But I’ve never been in that position yet, and I got Duke [Roufus] flying out here to practice that. To figure out some moves to make that not happen. But the more time I get and the more experience I get in there, the more stuff I get to throw.

Anthony Pettis interested in more Karate Combat?

EM: I know you said you have a boxing match lined up, but as far as Karate Combat goes, is this going to be a one and done?

AP: I hope not. I hope not because this wasn’t even on my radar at first. When this opportunity came up, I was like, it’s perfect for me. Honestly, the training camps are way easier than doing MMA training camps, because MMA you gotta worry about wrestling. You gotta do Muay Thai. You got to do boxing, then you got to put them all together. Jujitsu.

So, like so many different levels of practices that you gotta do, whereas right now I’m just focusing solely on striking. I’m getting in striking shape. Even with the boxing camp, like my boxing camp, I got to do a lot of sparring because I wasn’t doing three or four different martial arts. I was doing just one martial art.

EM: Have we seen the end of Anthony Pettis in martial arts that contain grappling?

AP: No, not at all. Yeah, I still have a PFL contract. We’ll be doing something with PFL in 2024 as well, man. So I’ll be all over the place.

Karate Combat 43 fight card

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About the author
Eddie Mercado
Eddie Mercado

Eddie Mercado is a writer and content creator for Bloody Elbow, and has covered combat sports since 2015. Eddie covers everything from betting odds and live events, to fighter interviews and co-hosting the 6th Round post-fight show and the 6th Round Retro. He retired at 1-0 in professional MMA, competed in one Muay Thai match in Thailand, and is currently a purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu under the great Diego Bispo.

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