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Anthony Pettis felt pain shoot through his ribs and had moments to think about breaking out of the submission hold or getting out of the cage healthy enough to fight again only a few weeks later.
Perhaps with $1 million and a 155-pound championship on the line, Pettis could have put in more effort to find a way to escape Stevie Ray in a PFL fight in Atlanta. But Pettis was once the boy on the cover of the Wheaties box and former UFC champion – He already had a place in the PFL playoffs secured and little motivation to try to win the fight by any means other than a decision.
Ray, who has only had two wins since 2017, locked Pettis in a body triangle and forced him to leave.
Pettis bluntly said, “I got caught submissive, man.”
In the UFC, Pettis might have had to wait months, if not years, to get a second chance. In accordance with the PFL’s seasonal format, which includes playoffs and championship fights, an immediate rematch will take place.
Pettis (25-13) will take on Ray (24-10) in the PFL playoffs on Friday night at Hulu theater at Madison Square Garden. In a “win and advance” format, Pettis promised that this time he would come to fight.
“It was the wrong mindset to go into this fight,” he said. “Now that I’m here in the playoffs, this fight is really important to me. I have to win this fight. I didn’t want to get hurt.”
Pettis, 35, is usually an open stance fighter. Against Ray, he competed for points and used a closed stance approach.
“I was trying to play it safe,” Pettis said. “In this fight, I’m fighting with my mouthpiece and looking for a knockout.”
The Pro Fighters League will host a lightweight semi-final headlined by Pettis on Friday night, with two more post-season events scheduled this month in Cardiff, Wales, and London.
In Friday’s other lightweight semi-final, No. Olivier Aubin-Mercier of Canada, who finished second, is fighting against third seed Alexandre Martinez of Paraguay.
A fighter known as “Showtime”, Pettis is a former UFC and WEC Lightweight Champion, but has been in trouble since moving to the PFL. He lost both fights in 2021 and is only 1-1 this season. Pettis said the fight in New York is a dream after a previously scheduled UFC fight in 2018. Barclays Center was canceled when his opponent was injured in an attack on Conor McGregor’s bus.
Pettis, who came in at 155.6 pounds at Thursday’s weigh-in, finished the regular season as the top seed in the lightweight division. Ray, who weighed in at 155.8 pounds, used his frustration with Pettis in PFL 5 to take the top spot. 4th place in the playoffs.
Pettis is in the final year of his two-year contract with the PFL and had no immediate plans for a professional future, although he said retirement was out of the question. He marries in November and the couple is expecting a child. The honeymoon must wait – a $1 million reward is at stake if Pettis wins the standings and wins the £155 crown in December.
In the PFL, the next fight always seems to be weeks away.
“It’s probably the hardest type of martial arts because you don’t get much rest,” Pettis said. “I won this fight, I’m back again. It’s pretty hard on the body. You have to approach these fights a little differently, mentally.”
But he’s a fan of the format and found that the structure makes it easier for the fans of the fight and makes it a more “fair fight” for the fighters in terms of fights. In addition, he added, the salary “was amazing.”
Pettis is leading 2v2 rematches and plans to continue this unbeaten streak. in New York.
“I’m still only 35 years old, I still enjoy it,” he said. “We’ll see how things go at the end of the season and take it from there.”