It’s been so, so long since that kick.
This is what introduced most of us to Anthony “Showtime” Pettis back in December 2010, what made us sit up and take notice of the budding talent within our Milwaukee midst. He was a sudden flash of lightning in a town whose penchant for producing fine fighters has been dimmed by history.
Sure, you can find the stories of men like Al Jenkins and Duke Roufus, but you have to go looking for them. This moment came looking for you. This was the stuff of action movies. Nobody runs up a fence, jumps off of it and lands a winning kick to his opponent’s head. Except somebody did. Pettis did.
That YouTube clip is approaching 4 million views. It seemed like everyone noticed him, all at the same time. Even Milwaukee Magazine couldn’t resist, and our readership isn’t exactly built upon fans of combat sports. But we highlighted that kick in our gossip column. We did a short profile on him. We went out to Roufus’ gym, the place that helped mold Pettis, and chatted with his fellow fighters.
We were watching a future UFC champion come of age. We were sure of it. It was just a question of when.
Except that it’s still a question.
Pettis’ path to ultimate MMA glory was derailed, as much by circumstance as performance. Those who follow the sport know the reasons. Those who don’t can read more about them here. But the upshot is, only one man at a time can be a top contender, and Pettis got caught up in a complex numbers game. So he took a non-title fight, which became just the second loss of his career, which came at the worst possible time. It gave people a reason to question him, to doubt his abilities, to speculate whether he was a one-kick wonder. And speculative doubts don’t pave the way to UFC title shots.
So he had to watch others pass him by on the contention ladder. Benson Henderson, the guy Pettis nailed with his famous kick, got the UFC title shot while Pettis got more undercards. Then Henderson got the belt and Pettis got about a year off with a major shoulder injury.
Now, Pettis is healthy again and inching his way back into the sport’s spotlight. He’ll be on national TV Saturday night, part of the Chicago UFC on FOX event, which also includes fellow Roufusport fighters Erik Koch and Pascal Krauss. Pettis squares off against fellow up-and-comer Donald Cerrone, yet another undercard fight, but those in the know say it has all the makings of a headliner.
It’s certainly a headliner for Pettis, because it’s a fight he simply can’t lose. Not if he wants to keep making the case for that elusive title shot. Not if he wants to keep that introductory kick from becoming further cemented as his only calling card.
He and his career encompass far more than that kick, of course. It was one brief moment in his remarkable 25 years. But that’s where the YouTube clicks go. That’s the current embodiment of Showtime, and it’s what casual fans remember about him, even as he wants to be remembered for so much more.
Pettis wants to be remembered as a UFC champion, and Saturday’s fight is the next requisite step on his path. Should the stars align, that path may very well lead to a title shot against Henderson. What a rematch it could be, the stuff of action movies.
But first, the coming attractions.
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