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UFC Lightweight Champ on Coaching TUF 20

155-pound supremo Anthony Pettis talks fitness, coaching and Wheaties.

Anthony Pettis

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for UFC lightweight champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis (17-2). In early May, he got the all clear to train again after a year out with a torn posterior cruciate ligament. Now, he is busy promoting his coaching role on The Ultimate Fighter 20. The show debuts this Wednesday on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m. and has its first all-female cast, with the winner set to be crowned the inaugural UFC strawweight champion. Once Pettis is done promoting the show, he will head into training camp to prepare for his first title defense against Gilbert Melendez (22-3), who also coached on the show, ahead of their December 6 fight.

Oh, and he just got picked to be the next athlete to be featured on the Wheaties box! Pettis won The Wheaties NEXT Challenge, where the cereal maker asked the public to log workouts on MapMyFitness and vote for their favorite athlete from five emerging sports.  "From Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan to Muhammad Ali, the best of the best have graced the cover of the cereal box, and to know that my name has been added to the list is a dream come true. It is amazing," says Pettis. "It's also great for MMA. The sport is growing. It is going in the right direction and brands like Wheaties are recognizing mixed martial artists as athletes, and that is good for everybody."

Coaching on TUF 20 was completely new for Pettis, and not without its challenges. "I think the most difficult thing was getting to relate to the ladies. When I grew up, my mom taught me how to treat a lady, but at the same time these ladies are athletes and they are fighting for a world title. I had to address that on a couple of different levels, and that was the hardest thing to get past. Once I got past that I think the show moved well. The ladies seemed to like my coaching. My team did an amazing job and everything went well."

Pettis, who is coached by Duke Roufus, went on to say that training the ladies was a great way for him to learn how to evaluate the skill sets of different fighters and assess their strengths and weaknesses. To make sure that members of Team Pettis were in good physical shape, Pettis drafted in his own strength & and conditioning coach, Matt Gifford (to get a glimpse at the type of drills and workouts that Gifford implements, check out his YouTube channel). "He pretty much put them through what I go through before my fights," says the 27-year-old from Wisconsin.

The Ultimate Fighter Coaches

There have been some tense moments between coaches in previous series of TUF, but Pettis said that he and Melendez focused on getting the coaching job done. Melendez did draft Nate Diaz on to his training team, but it seems that all in all the coaches and their respective entourages stuck to the business of trying to get their fighters ready. "We were professional, you know Melendez is a champion in his own right coming from a different organization. He didn’t make it difficult, he knew what the job was, and he did what he had to do. At the end of the year we are going to be fighting, so we are going to save it for the Octagon."

The pair meet on December 6 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, when Pettis defends the title he won in August 2013 when he defeated Benson Henderson. A serious knee injury kept him out of the Octagon since, but he is not concerned about the long period of inactivity. "I am not really worried about the ring rust at all. Fighting has been my whole life, and it doesn’t matter to me how long that I take off. I don’t think it is going to affect my game, I have had time off before and I have had surgery before. I just have to get my confidence back to where it was before I took the time off."

While he got the all clear to train earlier in the year, he is still working on getting his knee into fighting shape. "It is not kicking, it is more the checking kicks which was the problem, and that is what I am going to work on in the next three months. It’s not 100 percent, I would not say my confidence is 100 percent checking kicks."

From his bird's eye view of the action on The Ultimate Fighter 20, Pettis is confident that the UFC's newest division is in good health. "In Ronda Rousey’s division, the bantamweight division, you have one dominant champion. I think this division is closer to the featherweight or lightweight class where anybody can be champ at any given time. The skill level is matched evenly throughout all of these ladies, and I think it is going to be a very competitive division."

UFC President Dana White described TUF 19 as one of the worst series of the show yet, but Pettis, who went on to say that he would be open to coaching on the show again, thinks that this series offers good value. "All the ladies come from different backgrounds, different personalities, different fight styles. Watching them fight is very interesting and I think the public will like what they see."

All photos courtesy: Stuart Pettican/FOX Sports

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