Return of the king: Anthony Pettis wants to silence the doubters

Injuries are part of fighting.

Nobody understands this better than UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, who has missed out on almost two years of competition since joining the promotion in 2011. Knee injuries, shoulder injuries, and staph infections are just a few of the issues Pettis has faced over the last few years.

As he gets ready for his first title defense and first fight in 2014 this Saturday against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181, Pettis is trying to look at the bright side, but he admits it’s been tough.

"Last year I wasn’t too happy, but at least I’m getting one fight in this year. I’ve got some pretty good opportunities that came my way in the last year, so I’m pretty grateful to stay busy while I had the injuries," Pettis told FOX Sports.

Some of those opportunities Pettis spoke about included his first ever stint coaching on The Ultimate Fighter, landing the cover of a Wheaties box and signing an endorsement deal with Reebok. 

It’s all part of the plan Pettis, along with his management team at MMA Inc., have put together for him on the business side of MMA. He’s quickly becoming one of the most marketable fighters in the sport.

Combine that with an exciting style inside the Octagon — where Pettis is known to pull off some of the most unbelievable moves ever seen — and he instantly has star appeal and drawing power with fans.

"I definitely feel like I have the skills to bring some fans into the seats," Pettis said. People want to see me fight. Even though I’ve been out a year and dealing with the knee injury, my fight’s still big. People want to see what’s coming next for me. My last three fights haven’t made it out of the first round. I want to get back in there and show everybody why I’m the champ. Why I’ve got this belt."

It’s been too long, I’m hearing too much talk. It’s time for me to get out there and show what’s up.

— Anthony Pettis 

The lightweight division has been known as a shark tank over the years and maybe the deepest weight class in the sport. No fighter in history has defended the belt more than three times and only B.J. Penn was able to clearly define his reign with three equally devastating performances.

Pettis wants to pick up the slack where Penn left off when he exited the division a few years ago.

"I for sure know I’ve got the potential to run this division for a long time," Pettis said. "At the same time I’ve had these injuries. It sucks. I train hard. My style’s very dynamic, so I train the way I fight. I’m not going to change it up. That’s how I like to fight. I’m not going to go into my training camps afraid to hurt myself because I don’t want to be injured for the next fight. 

"I’m going to go out there and do what got this belt around my waist. A little safer as I’m getting older. I think I’m due for a good four- or five-fight streak. It can only get better from here."

Anthony Pettis wants to unleash a few more of these on Saturday against Gilbert Melendez.

While Pettis has been out of action he’s had to watch the ever-changing landscape of the division. He’s heard fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedo routinely call him out and use terms like "paper champion" to describe him because he’s been sidelined due to injury.

All the talk has only motivated Pettis that much more. He’s sick of hearing how this particular fighter is a bad matchup for him or the fact that he’s not even really the champion because he still hasn’t defended the belt.

Pettis wants to make an example out of Melendez this weekend to remind everybody what he’s capable of doing in the Octagon. If everything goes as planned on Saturday night, Pettis is curious to see who will still be talking come Sunday morning.

"It’s been too long, I’m hearing too much talk," Pettis said. "It’s time for me to get out there and show what’s up."

Long term, Pettis wants to have a very busy 2015 that not only defines his reign as champion but also solidifies his spot as one of the real faces of the UFC for the future. He respects what stars like Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey have been able to accomplish.

Pettis wants to join them in the superstar stratosphere, and if things play out the way he’s imagining for the next year, he’ll be right alongside Jones and Rousey every step of the way.

"That’s what’s happening in 2015. That’s my big goal," Pettis said. "Making sure we get all of the doubters out of the way. They haven’t seen me fight in a while so they forgot what happened. December, I’m going to start it off strong. Get another one in March or April and then July or August and then finish the year strong in December. If I can run a year like that, my name will be up there for sure."