Former WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (right), a student of Jeff “Duke” Roufus, faces Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136 in Houston. (AP)
It started out as a joke. Then it became a back tattoo and the name of a bar.
Now it’s a nickname that Anthony Pettis has to earn back Saturday, when he faces Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136 (9 p.m. ET, PPV).
For a while Anthony Pettis, the final WEC lightweight champion before the promotion was absorbed into the UFC, was “Showtime.” He’s famous for a running kick off the cage against Ben Henderson that looked like it belonged in The Matrix rather than the octagon.
Pettis’ exciting striking style has made him the poster child for one of the most exciting striking gyms in MMA, Roufusport in Milwaukee, where kickboxing legend Jeff “Duke” Roufus is head trainer.
“I just know what the UFC wants and what their promoters want,” Roufus said during a phone interview last week. “The one thing you can count on fighting one of our guys is you’re going to be in a fight.”
Roufus is known for an exciting brand of striking unlike anything else in the UFC. Alan Belcher propelling himself off of the cage to land a superman punch against Yoshihiro Akiyama and Pettis’ flying head kick are the examples that have caused fans to spill their beer at the Showtime Bar and Grill co-owned by Roufus and Pettis. Strikers using the cage well, something grapplers in the UFC have done for a long time, is a trademark of the Roufusport brand of striking which has revolutionized MMA.
“If I were to die today I’d love to be remembered as the Vince Lombardi of mixed martial arts,” Roufus said.
For that to happen Anthony Pettis needs to be Roufus’ 1966 Green Bay Packers.
Roufus is the man who gave Pettis his nickname. He was unable to see his star pupil’s first professional fight because he had a fight on the same card, but he heard the crowd’s reaction.
“Every time you fight somebody you put on a show,” Roufus told Pettis.
That was true until Pettis joined the UFC. He was unable to fight for the UFC lightweight title right away, as he had been promised, because Frankie Edgar was injured. So “Showtime” put his No. 1 contender status on the line against Clay Guida and was outwrestled by the UFC veteran in the decision loss.
“I have way better wrestling than I displayed in the Clay Guida fight,” Pettis said. “One bad fight and everybody thinks I suck at wrestling.”
While Pettis is known as a striker and Roufus as a striking specialist, Roufusport also has high pedigree wrestling coaches. Pettis has been wrestling with 2008 Olympian Ben Askren and the high school coach who helped Askren win two Wisconsin state titles, John Mesenbrink.
But wrestling hasn’t really been a focus for Pettis in camp because his Stephens, Saturday's opponent, is also a stand-up specialist with knockout power. Pettis thinks that if he sticks to the gameplan he’ll win the fight. Roufus thinks all his fighter has to do is “not get caught by a big punch.”
The stand-up power of both fighters makes this a potential Fight of the Night, but Pettis has his eyes set on a different bonus.
“This is going to be a good one. I’m coming to bring it,” Pettis said. “I want to win Knockout of the Night or Submission of the Night.”
What a show that would be.
-- Stephen Boyle