Seth Petruzelli is many things to many people. Depending on who you are, he’s that guy from The Ultimate Fighter season two, he’s the first person to beat Kimbo Slice, the one teammate and friend Tom Lawlor led into the Octagon on a leash at UFC 100, or the smoothie king of Florida.
But all the 30-year old from Orlando really wants is to be known as one of the best light heavyweights in the world, and beginning this Saturday night, he has his chance.
“I know the UFC is the Super Bowl of MMA, it’s the organization everybody wants to get into, so I definitely miss the validation of being in the UFC and knowing that I’m competing with the best,” said Petruzelli, who begins his second stint in the organization with a UFC 116 bout against Ricardo Romero. “I didn’t perform my best when I fought for the UFC the first time. I performed my best outside of the UFC, and I want to do it in the UFC. I want to show people how good I can really be.”
And for all the headline-grabbing and sometimes bizarre antics of the last few years, Petruzelli can fight. 14-5 as a pro, he owns a 2004 win over UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn, and went 1-1 on season two of TUF before an 0-2 UFC run in 2006-07 that easily could have been different. How? Well, if you remember his October 2006 bout with Matt Hamill, it was a fight where Petruzelli seemed one or two punches away from turning things around except for one thing – he didn’t let his hands go. If he beats Hamill that night, life may have been a lot different for “The Silverback,” but it wasn’t meant to be. As for that ‘letting his hands go’ problem, he appears to have remedied that.
“After that fight, I tried to let them go a little more in the (Wilson) Gouveia fight, and then I try for a takedown and get caught in a guillotine (laughs), but I was letting my hands go more, it was working for me, and since then, that’s all I’ve done is really try to concentrate on letting my hands go and have confidence in my hands,” he said. “And once I smell blood with my hands, just keep on going until the ref stops me.”
Following the submission loss to Gouveia in April of 2007, Petruzelli was released from the organization, but he kept in touch with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, making sure the lines of communication were open should he put together the type of winning streak that warranted a return engagement in the Octagon.
“I knew that if I kept winning fights, eventually it would happen, whether it was a year or two or three or four years,” said Petruzelli.
Six months after the bout, Petruzelli was back in action with a first round TKO win over Sean Sallee. He wouldn’t fight for a year, but when he did put the gloves back on, it was the biggest fight of his career, as he stepped in on a few hours’ notice to face internet streetfighting legend Kimbo Slice. That bout, on October 4, 2008, changed everything, as he stopped Kimbo in just 14 seconds. And if you didn’t know who Petruzelli was before, you certainly did the second that fight was waved off.
“The media storm was hell, but it was fun at the same time,” he said. “It was a new kind of validation for how hard I’d worked my entire life, since I was seven years old, in martial arts. Whether it was a bad storm raining down on me or a good storm, it was a time in my life that is a memory that I’ll never forget, and I’m happy for it.”
Petruzelli’s sporadic fight schedule has continued (one win each in 2009 and 2010), but when you put it all together, he’s 4-0 with four knockouts since he last set foot in the Octagon, and now he gets to begin the second chapter of his UFC career against New Jersey’s Romero.
“He’s a strong wrestler and a bigger guy, but I’m no stranger to fighting bigger or stronger opponents,” said Petruzelli of Romero. “He’s also at least three times slower than me; I’ve watched his fights and he’s decent at his takedowns but he’s very slow-handed and slow with his takedowns, so I’m gonna use my speed and my angle-cutting ability to my advantage, and just stay outside, let my hands go, and go for the knockout.”
And if all else fails, the Floridian also knows what it’s like to go through the fight week and fight night madness that comes along with being in the UFC. Those jitters have taken down more than one fighter in the past, and while Petruzelli isn’t counting on them affecting Romero, he wouldn’t be too upset if they do show up.
“I know that he’s wrestled for a D-1 school, so I know he’s used to wrestling in front of crowds and that sort of thing, so that aspect may not affect him, but definitely the craziness of the UFC and the media and hearing (Site coordinator) Burt (Watson)’s voice in the back of the locker room screaming ‘It’s time baby, it’s time.’ (Laughs) That might get in his head a little bit, so it’s definitely an advantage on my side, but I don’t know how much of that will come into the actual fight. I can’t use that as a tool to see if I’m gonna win or not.”
What he does hope to do is be entertaining in the lead-up to the fight, and then once the bell rings, let his hands go and show the potential he and fight game insiders believe he hasn’t unleashed yet. If he does that, then just one thing will come to mind when the name Seth Petruzelli is mentioned – light heavyweight contender.
“I’m not gonna let this opportunity pass me by,” he said. “I know that it’s do or die for me right now, being my second time in the UFC, so it’s gonna be explosive. I think I match up well against a lot of people in the division. As long as I let my hands go and don’t let nerves or anything else hold me back, I know I can do some damage in the 205 division.”