Here’s a surprise: The body of this UFC lightweight champion was not brought to you by the weight room. “I don’t lift at all,” says Anthony Pettis, a seven-year pro who makes fist-to-flesh contact in 44 percent of the strikes he throws and boasts an impressive W-L record of 17-2. Why no weights? According to Pettis, lifting creates unnecessary bulk, and unnecessary bulk demands more blood and oxygen to sustain—two things he’d rather use to KO, not keel over during a fight.
There’s another reason Pettis avoids weight racks and machines: Muscle bulk can also add poundage to his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame, something lightweight fighters fear with as much anxiety as a runway model. “Sometimes, I feel a little fat,” admits the 27-year-old Milwaukie native. “When you’re a fighter, you can always feel when you’re five pounds heavier.”
While Pettis is critical of his physique, the fighter, known as “Showtime” to his fans, acknowledges that he can put on an aesthetically pleasing performance for the millions of Americans who pay to watch UFC. “I have to be with my shirt off in front of the entire world—I’m pretty much fighting in my underwear—so, yeah, I get some positive remarks,” Pettis says.
27 years old
Training grounds: Milwaukee, Wis.
Nickname: Showtime. “It comes from my fighting style. I’m a little flashier than most guys—moves that I do are a little more active and athletic. I’m a risk-taker when I fight.”
Hours spent training per day: Up to six.
Days spent training per week: Up to seven. “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are six-hour days; Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are up to five-hour days. Then, I usually end up training on Sunday, too.”
Hours spent in the weight room per week: Zero. “I don’t lift at all. The more muscle we fighters have, the more blood and oxygen our bodies require when we’re fighting, so we don’t want to build up a lot of muscle mass.”
Go-to workout: Sparring. “It’s the closest you can get to a fight. You have to wear padded gear, but it’s pretty much fighting. I spar three times a week for about five rounds, or 25 minutes.”
Secret workout: The Hurricane. “My strength and conditioning program is different than most other guys’, because I’m not focused just on becoming a better MMA but becoming a better athlete—run faster, kick harder, be stronger. The Hurricane is a mixture of treadmill work and a bunch of different martial arts-specific things. It starts with 30-seconds [running] on a treadmill all out and then we jump off and do a specific workout. It’s an intense 40 minutes of straight performance conditioning.”
Biggest physical challenge: Injuries. “The body’s not made to get punched and kicked. MMA is a lot of disciplines—it’s everything across the board—so your body is going through a lot of abuse, so preventing injuries is a big thing.”
Best recovery tip: His diet. “Nutrition is probably the biggest thing—my meal plan, what I’m eating, how I’m eating. That’s what I think is most key to my recovery.”
Calories consumed per day: “I eat in blocks of food—carb blocks, protein blocks. We don’t want to count calories. We want to eat as much as possible to perform but still lose weight. It’s hard getting enough food in and still making [the lightweight division].”
Favorite pre-fight meal: Salmon, spinach, and sweet potato. “It gives me good energy, and I know I’m getting the right stuff from it. Then, right after I weigh in, I eat a peanut butter and jelly. That’s my feel-good food. And I miss bread when I’m cutting weight.”
Typical recovery meal: Organic chicken with tortillas, cheese, and greens. “I have a personal chef who makes me this healthy Mexican meal with organic chicken and greens. Everything is organic and clean.”
Celebration meal: Steak and lobster. “I like to prepare my steak with a lot of butter, oils and salt and pepper. And when I’m eating clean, I can’t have any of that.”
Biggest dietary vice: Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “I used to eat it as a kid growing up, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I just can’t control myself around it.”
Alcohol of choice: Mojitos. “After a fight, I have a small window when I can have fun. But when I’m in training camp, I don’t drink at all.”
Why he wins fights: “The way I fight, I’m intelligent, so I don’t get hit. And I’m athletic. And I love what I do, and I’m passionate about my sport and my job. Mix all those together, and I think that makes me win.”
What he thinks about his body: “I’m very critical about my own body, I think I can always be in better shape, I could always look better.”
What fans say about his body: “I have to be with my shirt off in front of the entire world—I’m pretty much fighting in my underwear—so, yeah, I get some positive remarks.”