When Julio Paulino went down a couple of weeks prior to UFC 116, Forrest Petz got the kind of phone call blue-collar Clevelanders aren’t normally accustomed to—how’d you like to go to Las Vegas and take on a Ninja on very short notice?
For a cage veteran like Petz though, a former forklift operator who’s been around the block a few times and still works in purchasing part-time for a Northern Ohio industrial supplies seller, the answer was automatic: Sure, that’d be fun.
“My manager Monte Cox called me and asked, ‘how’s your weight? Are you in good enough shape to fight?’” Petz says, recalling how news of his fight with Daniel Roberts came to pass. “I had fought three weeks before that call against Ralph Johnson, so I was in relatively good shape. I just had to really do a crash course for a week or so to get my heart rate back up, but I was in good shape for the fight—better than my opponent, I think, and he had a full training camp.”
Good enough to go the distance against Roberts, who eked out a split decision victory over Petz in his first bout in the Octagon since UFC 77 in 2007. But for the “Meat Cleaver”—a name given to him by a roommate back in the day for no reason other than it sounded a little ominous—there were plenty of positives to come out of it. For starters, the fight was entertaining, which is always a point of emphasis for Petz.
“I’d seen like two of his fights on YouTube before, and I knew he was a good wrestler who didn’t like to strike a whole lot,” he says. “That and he was a southpaw, but that’s about it. You know, I wish it would have worked out better for me, but I don’t think I gave a bad showing. But that’s the past, and you can’t go back and fix it.”
Petz is no-nonsense enough to leave his triumphs in the past as well, such as the four straight victories he strung together before Roberts in other shows. Or his decision victory over Dan Hardy back in 2006, which he shrugs off by saying “we’ve both come a long way since then, and I’m not living in the past.” Or his last victory in the UFC some three (very long) years ago against Luigi Fioravanti at UFC Fight Night 10 in 2007.
Nice little resume boosters, those wins, but Petz (24-8) knows you’re as good as your last fight, and his next scrap against a game Brian Foster at UFC Fight Night 20 in Austin on September 15 is thrice circled on his calendar. Foster (15-5) is coming off a loss of his own to Chris Lytle at UFC 110 in Australia, making him a dangerous wounded animal. The best thing about a clash between desperate, hungry fighters looking to keep their foot in the door in the UFC’s welterweight division is they will fight like desperate, hungry fighters.
And that’s exactly what Petz digs about this match-up. It has out-and-out dogfight written all over it.
“What’s great about Foster is he’s not the kind of guy you have to chase around,” he says. “He’s right there in front of you—you don’t have to look for him. He’s got heavy hands, and you’ve got to be careful with a guy like that. Plus, he’s strong and he can wrestle.
“But he’s the kind of guy I really like to fight because I know it’s going to be a brawl. It’s the kind of fight that’s going to look good. Maybe there’ll be an opportunity to get paid in there, too, with Fight of the Night.”
Petz trains out of Strong Style Fight Team, one of the most accomplished gyms along the Rust Belt, with standouts like Chris Lozano, Jeff Cox and Brian Rogers among his cast of partners. With the luxury of a full training camp behind him and a free-dealing striker on the docket, there’s renewed excitement in the Meat Cleaver’s voice.
And yet, even as a 35-year-old veteran who has fought everyone from Josh Neer to Marcus Davis, when he steps in to mix things up with Foster there’s still that familiar gut-wrenching nervousness that comes on just before the intro music hits the speakers.
“That never goes away man,” he says. “The only thing that changes as you gain experience is your ability to deal with it. Your ability to handle it becomes better, no matter how much anxiety or pressure you might feel. You become more professional at it; you behave better. The day you don’t have those butterflies, that might be time to hang it up.”
Now in his second stint in the UFC, the kickboxer Petz says he’s more than thankful for the chance to prove he belongs fighting at the top level, against the most elite welterweights in the game.
“Any fight you go into you want to win that fight, it’s important to you,” he says. “[Foster]’s the type of guy that, even when he’s on top, he’s not looking to lay on you. He’s looking to really press the action. It’s definitely the kind of fight I want to be involved with.
“But yeah, I’ve definitely got a chip on my shoulder because when this is all over I want to have something I can point to. I want to have accomplishments that are mine, and I want to have a winning record in the UFC.”