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Anthony Pettis on fall since losing lightweight title, cut to featherweight

Anthony Pettis during his lightweight bout against Eddie Alvarez at UFC Fight Night 81 in January. Al Powers/ESPN

Since 2015, few storylines in mixed martial arts have been as surreal as the fall of Anthony Pettis.

Twenty months ago, Pettis was the UFC lightweight champion and a mainstay on pound-for-pound lists. He looked like a good bet to hang on to the 155-pound championship long-term -- and he carried himself like it.

During interviews, Pettis talked about wanting "legacy fights." In addition to defending the title against the top contenders, he was interested in the idea of a super fight against Jose Aldo. His coach, Duke Roufus, raved about the fireworks a matchup with Conor McGregor would produce.

This idea of big-money legacy fights has taken off in 2016. Nontitle fights featuring McGregor and Nate Diaz have produced two of the three highest-revenue pay-per-views in UFC history. Champions are calling out specific names instead of simply accepting whichever challenger is offered.

This is what Pettis had in mind back in 2015 -- but he has been unable to participate in it. Pettis, 29, is mired in the worst skid of his career, suffering three consecutive defeats.

"I was on top of the world before losing the title to [Rafael dos Anjos, in March 2015]," Pettis told ESPN.com. "That same time was when Conor was just making his climb up. I was trying to make the money fights. I was looking for the Aldo fight -- the Diaz fight.

"It's a little frustrating to see that happen now without me, but it's motivating at the same time. I see the potential is there for that, I just have to go after it."

Pettis (18-5) will look to turn things around this weekend, when he makes his featherweight debut against Charles Oliveira (21-5) at UFC Fight Night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Fighting out of Milwaukee, Pettis says he never felt undersized at 155 pounds. The decision to drop to 145 was more about a mental reset. He admits something was off in his last two performances, decision losses to Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza.

"It's weird man. I was definitely excited about those fights but it was a different kind of excited," Pettis said. "With this move, I feel like it's back to Day 1, when I started all this. I'm worried about a weight cut, about a game plan. I'm worried about things again.

"I definitely haven't lost my love for the sport or for training. This is about a new goal. I'm in this division to be the champion. To go back and climb that ladder at 155 pounds again, it just wasn't working out for me so I wanted to try something new."

Pettis said he arrived in Vancouver about 15 pounds over the 145-pound weight limit. He said he's worked with experienced nutritionists Mike Dolce and Louis Giordano for the cut. All of Pettis' WEC and UFC fights have taken place at 155, although he was once signed to a 145-pound fight against Aldo in 2013. The fight fell through due to injury.

"It's not too hard, actually," Pettis said of the cut. "Making 155 wasn't too hard for me. I've got guys in my corner that are on top of it. We showed up 15 pounds over with water, we're looking in good shape. A practice cut was a consideration, but these guys said I should be good and I trust them."

Pettis did the bulk of his camp at Roufusport in Milwaukee, but also visited Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for sparring. He faces a legitimate challenge in Oliveira, who has won five of his last six.

"He's a solid stand-up kickboxer," Pettis said. "His hands are high. He'll try to throw bombs, low kicks. He definitely looks to use his grappling with it, which is the dangerous part. I'm not getting an easy fight, coming down to 145. He's a tough dude.

"As long as I fight like myself, no one can beat me. I truly believe that."