The evolution of Sergio Pettis is in full swing.
Where most athletes come to the Octagon at a later age and seek out success on the strength of an established attack, the 20-year-old Roufusport fighter is bucking trends at every turn. “The Phenom” is still developing his skill set and building upon the talents that already have him sitting as one of the hottest prospects in the fight game, and while he boasts a wide variety of weapons, the experience column is where the next phase of his growth will be measured.
Despite finding success with smaller promotions, in order to blossom into the next generation fighter he’s figured to become, Pettis needed to test himself under the bright lights of the big stage. That process began last November at UFC 167 and the results were immediate. Heading into his bout with seasoned veteran Will Campuzano in Las Vegas, questions lingered as to how the talented young Milwaukee native would fare inside the Octagon, but he silenced the doubters with a solid debut performance. Pettis’ speed and accuracy kept the WEC veteran at bay as he worked to pick up the unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards, and the victory only amplified the buzz he carried into his first showing under the UFC banner.
The momentum was rolling high into his next showing against Alex Caceres in Chicago, and once again, the highly touted prospect showed up to work. Pettis stayed one step ahead of the TUF alum, getting the better of nearly every exchange through the opening 10 minutes of the bout. He appeared to be heading toward his second consecutive victory before “Bruce Leroy” unexpectedly turned the tides in the final frame and locked in a fight-ending submission with 21 seconds remaining in the bout.
Despite an impressive showing where he handled his opponent for the majority of the tilt, Pettis was forced to face a hard lesson that night in Chicago. Mixed martial arts is an unpredictable realm, and despite his proven capability and the appearance of control, things can turn on a dime. The Duke Roufus product was 99 percent prepared to handle anything that came his way, but the loss to Caceres - the first of his professional career - provided the type of “experience through education” that cannot be duplicated in training.
“That fight taught me a lot,” Pettis said. “No one likes to lose, but as Duke always says, ‘Losing is like your medicine. Don’t be bitter, get better.’ I learned a lot in that fight. It was my first time in deep waters and I froze up and made a mistake. Caceres capitalized on it and that made me learn that I need to be more cautious. My fight IQ is much better and I’m ready to show my improvements in this next fight.”
A long Wisconsin winter inside the gym provided the platform for frustration to be molded into motivation and Pettis has every intention of putting version 2.0 on display. That opportunity will come when he faces Yaotzin Meza this Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov and he plans to give the Albuquerque crowd a good look at the growth he’s made since his last showing.
“The winter was long and we are just now barely getting over it,” Pettis said. “There is nothing to do in Milwaukee during the winter so I stayed in the gym the entire time. I got past my eye surgery, which was a very good success. I can see now and I cannot wait to get to Albuquerque and put my hands on Yaotzin Meza. I want to make a statement in this fight.
“I’m not a little boy anymore. My body is starting to look like a man and I’m starting to act and think like a man as well. This is my career and I’m fully invested in it in every way. My career is on the line in this fight and so is his. We are both coming off losses and we are going to see who wants it more.”
Despite Pettis’ renown striking pedigree, he’s invested countless hours into rounding out the rest of his skill set. He counts on his teammates at Roufusport to push him and prepare him for all the challenges he will face once the cage door closes, and while Pettis has a good idea of what his opponent will bring into the cage this Saturday, he believes he’ll be ready to handle whatever is thrown his way.
“Meza is dangerous from everywhere,” Pettis said. “His stand-up is good and his ground game is legit. Obviously, he is going to try to take me down. He’s not going to want to stand up with me. I’m more of an accomplished striker than he is. He is going to try to take me down and do what Caceres did to me. He’s going to try to submit me because he watched my last fight and saw a flaw in my game. But I feel like I’ve improved a lot since then. I’m a lot better on the ground. My fight IQ is better and I feel a lot smarter going into this fight.”
When Pettis returns to action this weekend in Albuquerque, he will once again be fighting under the cloud of expectation that hovers overhead. His older brother is not only the UFC lightweight champion, but a fighter that evokes talk of being the future of the very sport they both compete in. While it’s unintentional, Anthony’s achievements cast a long shadow that the younger Pettis will have to fight his way out of. And that’s certainly not something Sergio is unaware of.
That said, Pettis is looking to carve out his own place in the sport and he can take a big step toward that goal with an impressive performance on Saturday night.
“Of course that is always going to be there but I don’t think about that,” Pettis said. “The more I think about it the more insecure it makes me feel in the cage. I’m doing my own thing. I’m my own individual and I’m feeling great about it. I’m not Anthony Pettis…I’m Sergio Pettis, and I need to make a name for myself.
“Of course they are going to expect me to do the things Anthony is doing, but people need to remember that I’m only 20 years old. I’m still growing into this sport and it’s just a matter of time before I feel comfortable enough to get in there and showcase what I really have. And I feel like this fight is a great opportunity to do that. I have a great mindset coming in. I’m feeling positive and nothing can stop me.”
Sergio Pettis: The Evolution of the Phenom
"I’m doing my own thing. I’m my own individual and I’m feeling great about it. I’m not Anthony Pettis…I’m Sergio Pettis, and I need to make a name for myself." - Sergio Pettis