The time he let one slip through his fingers two years ago in a loss to Clay Guida, that one felt fast. It was a mistake on his part -- one he’s been paying for since.
“That was the fastest fight of my life,” Pettis told ESPN.com. “It was just one of those I didn’t get up for. All I kept thinking was, ‘I’m going to knock this guy out, and I’ll get my title shot.’
“Even during the fight, I thought I’d catch him in a triangle -- catch him somewhere. It just never happened.”
The last title opportunity that disappeared, against Jose Aldo for the featherweight title on Aug. 3, that one had a slow, demoralizing, heartbreaking feel to it.
In June, he flew to Rio de Janeiro to promote the proposed UFC 163 fight. On his last day there, he and light heavyweight Phil Davis decided to cram in a workout before flying home. While rolling, he felt his knee pop, but thought maybe it was nothing serious.
When it started to swell an hour into the long international flight, he knew better.
“It was so annoying, man,” Pettis said. “I could feel it getting bigger and bigger. I thought, ‘Damn, there it goes. There goes my title shot.’
“Phil Davis was on the plane, and he felt so bad. I was trying to act cool, telling him it was probably just a little sprain, but deep down I knew it was pretty serious.”
There have been others, of course. Pettis was supposed to fight for the UFC lightweight title in his promotional debut more than two years ago. In that time, the Guida loss, injuries and other circumstances have conspired against him.
Finally, it appears the cruel joke is over. Last weekend, Pettis replaced the injured TJ Grant in a title fight against Ben Henderson at UFC 164 on Aug. 31 in Milwaukee.
Despite everything he’s been through to get to this spot, some accuse Pettis of jumping in line. He asked for the shot against Aldo even though he’d never fought in that weight class before.
And his campaign for Grant’s spot in Milwaukee actually began before Grant injured himself -- and it rubbed some the wrong way. Grant had, after all, earned the opportunity as well, knocking out Gray Maynard in May.
Pettis (16-2), as you might imagine, is unapologetic of his calls for a title shot.
“If people really believe that, they need to go back and actually look at my career,” Pettis said. “See how I’ve fought when I didn’t have to fight. Even after I lost the Aldo fight, I was getting ready to fight Josh Thomson.
“They gave me Joe Lauzon; I knocked him out and was supposed to get a title shot. They gave me Donald Cerrone; I beat him and was promised a title shot. I’m not talking my way into shots.”
In addition to a UFC title fight, a rematch with Henderson has really always been in the cards for Pettis. Their first meeting, which Pettis won via unanimous decision in Henderson’s hometown of Phoenix, was the perfect ending in the WEC’s final event.
Henderson (19-2) has rattled off seven consecutive wins since the loss. He claimed the UFC title in February 2012 and already has posted three successful defenses.
In regard to the first Pettis fight in late 2010, Henderson has said numerous times he allowed the moment to affect his game plan. Instead of wrestling Pettis for 25 minutes, he got caught up in the idea of proving he could strike with him.
Pettis says that description is most likely influenced by what happened in his loss to Guida, when he was basically neutralized on his back for three rounds.
The notion that Pettis can’t handle elite wrestlers stuck with him after that loss, but he invites Henderson to go ahead and test it when the two meet for the second time.
“Uh, I think he saw the Guida fight and he’s saying the same thing everybody else said,” Pettis said. “Ben did what he wanted to do in the first fight, we went five rounds, we both had our moments and I got my hand raised.
“People say they can go in and ‘Guida’ me, but that’s not happening again.”