Nifty kick in WEC finale put Anthony Pettis in spotlight

Anthony Pettis provided one of sports’ top highlights in 2010 when he bounced off the cage and delivered a kick in the final World Extreme Cagefighting bout in December.

He has no intention of participating in one of the top fights of 2011 when he makes his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut Saturday, even though his matchup against Clay Guida on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 Finale card at the Palms is being hyped as a potential classic.

“I don’t want it to be Fight of the Year,” Pettis said. “I want to get in there and get a quick knockout or submission, get my paycheck and go home.”

While he would prefer a knockout — Guida has never been stopped in 39 career fights — Pettis simply wants a victory to keep him in the title picture.

He was supposed to be fighting for a UFC belt by now. That highlight-reel kick to Ben Henderson’s head in the fifth round of a WEC lightweight title fight helped him clinch a decision and seal his spot as the defunct organization’s last champ. It also wrapped up what was supposed to be an immediate UFC title shot when the WEC was folded into the UFC.

Pettis was due to meet the winner of the January title bout between Gray Maynard and champion Frankie Edgar, but the fight ended in a draw. Then both fighters were hurt, and a rematch has still not been officially booked. So, Pettis was left to fight in the interim.

“It’s definitely a big chance. If I lose, I’m out of title contention. I came to the UFC to fight, and I’m not going to sit around and wait for these guys,” he said. “Being in the UFC was a longtime goal. Going straight to a title shot was a bonus on top of that, but I’m here to fight. This is the highest stage. I can’t think about losing the title shot. I just have to worry about winning my fight.”

He has won four straight fights since the only loss of his career, a split decision against Bart Palaszewski. But much of the work Pettis did throughout his WEC stint has been overshadowed by what is now called the “Showtime Kick,” derived from his nickname.

He hears about the maneuver, which was the No. 8 play of the year on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” every day.

“It’s a catch-22,” Pettis said. “Some people like the kick and say I’m a good fighter, and then others say, ‘Oh, he’s just a one-kick wonder.’ ”

He has the chance to prove he belongs among the world’s elite lightweights against Guida, a fan favorite who has won three straight fights to move from a perceived gatekeeper, separating the middle of the division from the elite, to a contender.

“I’m a fan of Anthony Pettis,” Guida said. “I’m honored to be able to get in there and show him what the UFC is all about. He’s got that WEC belt. He’s got a lot of momentum behind him with (four) wins in a row over some tough opponents. Are they UFC worthy? We’ll find out in the next couple of months. Is he UFC worthy? We’ll find out in the next couple of days.”

Pettis pointed out three of the four opponents he has beaten during his winning streak have won their UFC debuts, adding to his confidence level.

Guida said Pettis won’t follow in the success of the other former WEC fighters and the talk of Pettis getting a title shot with a victory is premature.

“That’s a big if,” he said.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.

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