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Anthony Pettis reflects on first year in PFL: ‘Last season was probably the worst that I ever had’

Jumping from the UFC to the PFL was a bigger adjustment than Anthony Pettis realized, but with one full year under his belt, the former UFC and WEC lightweight champion believes he is now better prepared to add another belt to his collection.

Last year, Pettis left the UFC after nearly a decade in the organization to sign with the Professional Fighters League. It was a big signing for the PFL, and Pettis was immediately tapped as a favorite to win the 2021 lightweight season. Things did not go according to plan, however, as Pettis failed to even make the playoffs, losing both of his fights by decision. It was a year that Pettis would like to forget — and one he says came down in large part to the difference between the PFL and the UFC.

“It was horrible,” Pettis said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Now that I’m talking about seasons, I can talk about my season. Last season was probably the worst that I ever had. I didn’t know what to expect. Coming from the format that I fought on, which was like, take a fight, take my time off, as much as I need to get my body right, and then get back into camp and fight again. That was my timeline, whereas in the PFL you take your fight, you’ve got eight weeks to get ready for the next one, eight weeks to get ready for the next one, no matter what happens in the fight.

“So strategically, I came in there trying to be ‘Showtime’ and do these cartwheel kicks and all these crazy things in the first fight, and it didn’t play in my favor. I almost caught him, but I lost all three rounds pretty much. Then the second fight, I go in there and fight Raush [Manfio, PFL’s 2021 lightweight champion], the world champ, the guy who just won, and I really focused on boxing because the canvas in the PFL was super slippery. I slipped every time I threw a high kick or any type of kick. So I never fought on that type of canvas for a long time. I’ve been fighting on the UFC canvas for my whole career pretty much. So it was a lot of new things that happened.”

The change in format is a pretty big one for Pettis. The eight-week turnaround between his fights in the PFL represents the shortest time between fights since he joined the UFC in 2011. But now that he’s been through it once before, Pettis believes he’s better prepared for this season.

“Not having that time between fights to bounce back and get your body right, to just jump back in there was different for me,” Pettis said. “This time around I kind of understand it. All the bulk of your training has to be done at your front end and the fights have to be strategically planned out. My first fight, if I don’t get the knockout I better make sure that my body is healthy so I can get into this next fight eight weeks later and feel the way I should be feeling for a fight.”

It wasn’t just the format that threw Pettis for a loop though. The PFL postponed their 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, and when they returned for 2021, the organization implemented safeguards to minimize risk, including a bubble which required fighters to check in 17 days in advance of their fights. And for Pettis, that was arguably the biggest difference maker.

“All of it got to me,” Pettis said. “The biggest thing that got to me was the quarantine. We had to go there and stay there 17 days inside this little bubble that they made for us, which was dope. They spent a lot of money on that setup for us, to make sure the tournament could play on. But sitting in that hotel room away from my family, my girl’s about to give birth — there was a lot at play that made me not want to be mentally there in that hotel room. It kind of felt like I was in jail. Bro, if this is how jail feels, I never want to go to jail. I can’t deal with it. So doing both of those quarantines, mentally it gave me time to think about everything. It was nerve-wracking.

“I’ve been working on my mental training a lot these last couple years,” Pettis continued, “but to be there with your thoughts for 17 days and without my family and without the amenities that I’m used to of a fight week — being able to run outside and cut some weight, we had scheduled time for treadmills — it was just a lot to adjust to. Coming from the UFC to the PFL with all the COVID rules, there were a lot of adjustments that didn’t go my way. I understand now where I’m at. I can’t change the past. All I can do is change what happens this year. I’m definitely more aware of how these seasons work this time around.”

The PFL is set to being their 2022 season on April 20. Pettis does not currently have a date or opponent scheduled but is expected to compete either in April or early May.