Anthony Pettis was not going to be outwrestled by Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136.
Four months earlier, he’d given up too many takedowns to Clay Guida and it cost him a lightweight title shot. Pettis learned a lesson from that loss, though, and he used it to outpoint Stephens.
“I just learned that the top position is a huge position to win from,” Pettis told theSherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “You don’t get beat up. I’m 100-percent healthy. I won the fight. I don’t have injuries. I can go back to train tonight. Top position is important, and I really went back and focused on making that more of a part of my game.”
Pettis finished six takedowns against Stephens, according to FightMetric.com. Also, he stopped five of Stephens’ eight takedown attempts and showed an ability to escape back to his feet when he did end up on the bottom.
“That was a huge point in this camp,” Pettis said of getting up. “In the Clay Guida fight, I was going for submission after submission and I should have been standing up and sweeping. Every time I got taken down I remembered, ‘Go for a couple of submissions. If nothing’s there, then get back to your feet.’”
In Pettis’ view, you can’t win a fight in the UFC from your back unless you score a submission. He explained that it’s a perception issue with judges, that even if the bottom fighter is the aggressor, the fighter on top will get the nod. After losing to Guida, he began adjusting his game accordingly.
“You look at the UFC lightweight division, the top guys are all wrestlers,” Pettis said. “Me being a striker, I don’t fit into that picture. I need to adjust my game to fit in with the top-level guys in the UFC. By no means am I only going to hold people down and try to win fights. I’m still going for my bread-and-butter, which is knockouts, but fighting a guy like Jeremy Stephens, you don’t want to stay in the pocket with that guy too long.”
Some fans could be concerned that if Pettis is changing his style, he may never throw another spectacular cage-climbing kick like the one he drilled Ben Henderson with at WEC 53. It’s true that he might use more wrestling and control now, but that kick was less than a year ago. Plus Pettis has fought only twice in the UFC.
“I think I’m going to have to just find out how to make them work at this level,” Pettis said of his flashier moves. “It’s easy to do it when you’re fighting guys who aren’t as good at striking as you or don’t pose a threat and you can do whatever you want, but now that these guys [have] good boxing and good kicking and good defense, you’ll still see it, but it’s going to be limited. I have to be careful. I have to win fights. If I want to be a champ, I need to win fights.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:12:12).