When the UFC celebrates its 20th Anniversary at UFC 167, the card will feature a fighter that is only a few months older than the organization itself. That fighter is Sergio Pettis, younger brother of UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
Pettis (9-0), who was born on August 18, 1993 was signed by the UFC in early October to face Vaughan Lee on the November 16 fight card. Pettis was well into his training camp for the fight when he received some potentially devastating news, Lee was out of the fight with an injury.
The injury came with less than two weeks before the fight, and at that time things didn't look promising for Pettis. "I was upset," Pettis recalled. "11 days before the fight I get the call, and he hurts himself. Injuries happen all the time in this sport, and it sucks.
I was really down, but they found me an opponent right away, and that made me feel a lot better. I didn't want to get dropped from this card; it's one of the biggest cards of the year. It's the 20th anniversary, and I get to fight underneath Georges St-Pierre, who is one of the guys I used to look up to, so I'm very excited."
Former WEC/UFC fighter and current Legacy Fighting Championship flyweight champion Will Campuzano (13-4) answered the call to return to the UFC to face Pettis. Campuzano last fought in the UFC in 2011, dropping back-to-back fights to Nick Pace and Chris Cariaso. Since those defeats, Campuzano has gone unbeaten, running up five straight victories.
The change in opponent at such a late date may have shaken some young fighters, but Pettis, the youngest fighter on the UFC's roster, has been there and done that already.
In June of this year, Pettis was scheduled to face Jeff Curran, when Curran dropped off the Resurrection Fighting Alliance 8 fight card just days before the fight. Dillard Pegg stepped up to take that open spot on nine days notice. Pettis handled himself well in that outing, knocking out Pegg in 51-seconds to become the inaugural RFA flyweight champion.
When asked what he took away from that situation, training for one fighter, and then having that fighter drop out so late in camp Pettis said, "What I took away is you just got to go out there and react. It's a fight. You plan for a fight to happen, and that person gets injured, and now you have a new opponent, so you just have to go out there and react to what that person does. I learned to just go out there and react and be confident in myself, and be confident in my training camp. I'm one of the hardest workers, and I think I'm going to be one of the best in the world."
The other thing Pettis has going for him in this short notice fight is that he is familiar with Campuzano "I saw footage on Will, I used to watch him fight when he was in the WEC around the same time that Anthony was, so he was one of the guys I looked up to. I like the way he strikes, I like the way he goes out there and uses knees. I'm going to go out there and react, but there is a game plan to it all."
The road to the UFC started about the same time for the Pettis brothers, "We started out doing martial arts as kids," Pettis said. "My mom put us into taekwondo to learn self defense, and to build life skills. We accomplished what we wanted to do in that. We got our black belts, and we were very, very high up in competition, and then Anthony transitioned to Duke Roufus' kickboxing gym. From there, after seeing Anthony's first couple of fights I got involved when I was thirteen."
Sergio Pettis learned more than self-defense, and his black belt while practicing taekwondo. In fact, before transitioning to mixed martial arts he captured a world championship in point fighting in the sport that launched his MMA career. If you're keeping track, that gives Pettis one ameatuer championship in martial arts, and two professional championships.
In addition to the RFA title, Pettis earned the North American Fighting Championship bantamweight title when he submitted James Porter on September 28. The win over Porter, like the win over Pegg came in the first round when Porter tapped to a kimura at the 2:33 mark.
Both of Pettis' MMA titles were won in front of hometown crowds in Milwaukee, allowing his very large family to share in the joy of those victories, "My grandpa had 17 kids, and before that his mom and dad had 23, so we have a huge family. They're very supportive. They're awesome. They love the sport. They love what we do, and they've always been a part of us," Pettis said. "I love my family. I love when we get together. Having them there gives me that extra confidence, and they kind words they say before the fights help out a lot."
Pettis will have a much smaller rooting contingent with him in Las Vegas. In addition to Anthony being in his corner, the only people that will accompany the Pettis brothers to UFC 167 are their mother and her brother.
Another thing that will accompany Pettis to the Octagon that night will be high expectations. The last name that he carries evokes images of crazy kicks off the cage, and other high-risk, high-reward maneuvers thanks to the WEC/UFC history of Anthony. Sergio accepts the fact that many fans will expect to see him come out with the same style, "They're going to expect me to do the kick off the cage, and all that crazy stuff that he throws. It adds a little bit more pressure on me, but we're different fighters, " Pettis said. "We're different people in general. If I don't live up to those expectations, I'm still going to be a contender in my weight division. I'm still going to do what I have to do. I'm going to entertain the crowd, and go for finishes."
Pettis' UFC debut will be his 10th fight in a little over two years. That's a pace that he wants to keep up now that he's with the biggest promotion in the sport, "I like to stay active. I'm young, why waste my youth? I haven't sustained any big injuries, just bumps and bruises. Staying active helps me work on my art, it helps me in the gym to get better at what I have to do and to help understand the mindset we have to have for fighting."
Since turning pro in September 2011, Pettis has fought at both flyweight and bantamweight, but when he steps into the Octagon for the first time, he will do so at 135-pounds. When asked why he decided on that weight, Pettis replied, "Flyweight is a hard weight cut for me. I'm still young, and hopefully I grow a little bit into my body. I walk around at about 158, so getting down to 125 is kind of hard for me. I'm young too, so of course, I don't like to diet. I feel a lot more comfortable at 135. I'll see how I do, how I compete at 135, and if they're bigger than me, which they are, they're a lot more mature in their bodies, and I'll see how I compete against them and if I'm not comfortable I'll make the cut to 125."
Besides the weight cutting, there's also the matter of just feeling better and performing better at the higher weight, "(At) 125 I feel flat footed. I don't have a lot of energy in my legs from cutting the weight. At 135 I feel just right. I feel good when I rehydrate. I feel I have more power, more pop and more explosion at 135."
While the weight cut won't be a concern for his first UFC fight, something that could be a concern are the dreaded Octagon jitters, a malady that seems to effect more than a fair share of fighters that step into the Octagon for the first time. Pettis acknowledged that he would be nervous for the fight in Vegas, but added, "I've seen it all. I've seen my brother go through it. I've been inside the Octagon, and outside the Octagon, so I'm not really that nervous. Of course I'm going to have some jitters, but I'm going to use those jitters in a positive way. The more nervous I am, the more cautious I am in there."
Sergio Pettis will make his UFC debut on the preliminary card of UFC 167. The fight card will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 16. Headlining the card will be a welterweight title fight between champion Georges St-Pierre and No. 1 ranked contender Johny Hendricks.
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