As much as UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis wanted to fight before actually stepping into the Octagon at UFC 181 in December, that time he was out nursing a knee injury and coaching "The Ultimate Fighter" ended up serving as the best motivation ever.
While he was gone, the current king at 155 pounds had to listen to a laundry list of fighters talk about his absence using phrases like "paper champion" to describe him.
Pettis had a point to prove, so when he faced Gilbert Melendez on Dec. 6, the Milwaukee native not only looked impressive but he became the first fighter in history to tap out the former Strikeforce lightweight champion.
With his next fight already scheduled for UFC 185 in Dallas on March 14, Pettis plans on sending yet another message to the lightweights who had something to say about him while he was out.
"I had a year off with the knee injury, so for me it’s just getting back and getting busy, knocking these contenders off one at a time," Pettis told FOX Sports. "A lot of people talking saying I was dodging fights and I was sitting on the belt. I was injured and now I’m healthy. I’m healthy, now I just keep it going."
Following his win over Melendez it looked like Pettis was lined up to face undefeated contender Khabib Nurmagomedov for his next title defense. Unfortunately, Nurmagomedov was now dealing with an injury of his own and wasn’t expected to return until May, and Pettis didn’t want to wait that long to fight again.
So the UFC opted to match Pettis up with Rafael dos Anjos, who is 8-1 in his past nine fights with wins over notable names such as former champion Benson Henderson as well as Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
I want to be one of the pay-per-view kings in the UFC. I think there’s a path right now set up for someone to come in and take over and I can be that guy.
— Anthony Pettis
While dos Anjos doesn’t make as much noise as some other contenders about getting a crack at the lightweight title, Pettis appreciates that the Brazilian allows his work in the Octagon to prove he belongs in there with him.
"He’s definitely dangerous. Anybody who can go in there and knock out Ben Henderson is definitely a dangerous lightweight," Pettis said. "I think Ben Henderson’s one of the best lightweights in the world, so for him to do what he did to Ben Henderson was impressive.
"There’s no quit in this guy. It’s not going to be any walk-through fight by any means."
A win for Pettis at UFC 185 will put him on a six-fight streak overall with two title defenses to his credit since taking the belt from Henderson in 2013.
Beating dos Anjos is just the first step towards a much loftier goal according to Pettis, who hopes to surpass former champion B.J. Penn when it comes to dominance in the lightweight division as well as overall title defenses.
"Me getting that belt was the first goal. Now it’s time to set this legacy in place and make sure people remember my name for a long time," Pettis said. "When you look at the lightweight division, the biggest name that sticks out is B.J. Penn. He’s an icon and he’s been around a long time and he was dominant as the champ.
"I think I’m set up to be the next name in the line. You have Frankie Edgar, you have Ben Henderson, but I think I can be the most dominant champ in this lightweight division."
Pettis also wants to become a champion the UFC can count on to deliver big numbers at the box office.
Only Penn has historically drawn big buys when it comes to lightweights headlining UFC pay-per-views, but Pettis is ready to take the baton from the future Hall of Famer and run with it until he’s one of the biggest stars in the entire sport.
Some fighters shy away from the notion of being the face of the UFC.
Pettis invites it.
"I want to be one of the pay-per-view kings in the UFC," Pettis said. "I think there’s a path right now set up for someone to come in and take over, and I can be that guy. I have the fighting style and people like seeing me fight. I don’t plan on changing that. I just need to keep doing what I do and everything will happen."