Monday mornings after a fight were always interesting for Sergio Pettis, teenage high school student and budding mixed martial artist. Just 15 when he had his first amateur fight, the Milwaukee native was fighting grown men on weekends while his peers had house parties and played video games.
“Some days I’d be a little beat up and my face would be a little messed up,” he says with a chuckle. “It was cool though. I felt I was different. We had the football players, the wrestlers, and I was the only kid that was doing mixed martial arts at the time. I was the kid fighting, and a lot of people liked it and told me ‘hopefully you’ll make it.’ And now I’m here.”
Being here is almost destiny for the youngest fighter currently on the UFC roster. At 20, the younger brother of UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis was expected to earn a spot on the roster as soon as he put on the gloves. And like he said, after just nine pro fights, he’s here, making his debut this Saturday in a UFC 167 prelim bout against Will Campuzano.
“A lot of people always told me that (I’d be in the UFC),” he said. “Obviously they’ve seen my brother fight and they’d say ‘you’re next.’ I knew I was gonna be here, but I didn’t think it was going to be that soon.”
He’s got the bloodlines and the talent though, something evident from that first amateur fight. And when he was asked for his official UFC bio what it means to be fighting in the Octagon, he spoke of having pretend UFC fights in his house when he was just 13. Of course, when hearing that you have to ask, did he ever get caught?
“I never got caught, thank God,” he laughs. “That would have been kind of embarrassing. I used to make sure no one was home, I’d look out the windows and make sure no one was coming, and when I knew the coast was clear I’d start fighting.”
He hasn’t stopped since, though these days someone’s fighting him back, even if they haven’t been successful in slowing his rise. 9-0 with six finishes, five in the first round, “The Phenom” looks to be the real deal, and not just because of his talent or his brother. The bantamweight has a maturity about him that is noticeable from the moment you talk to him, and that may be his biggest asset.
“I think it’s my mom,” he said. “Also losing my father at a young age, I had that feeling of losing someone and it makes you appreciate life a lot more. And I was always hanging out with my older brothers Anthony and Ray, so I’d try to act more mature (Laughs), and I guess it stuck with me. My mom put us in the right position and made sure we had the right head on our shoulders and that we were always strict and had respect for ourselves.”
And Pettis doesn’t shy away from showing his obvious respect for his brother, the champ. In fact, when listing his strengths, Pettis listed “Standup, Anthony Pettis’ little brother.”
“He’s my brother,” said Sergio. “People are going to think that by beating me they’re beating him and they’re gonna want to use that to take me out. But Anthony’s my training partner, I live with the guy, I get to see what he does, and I see his mindset for the fights he has. His last fight (against Benson Henderson), I saw his mindset fighting for the belt, and it was just ridiculous how focused he was and how calm he was. He was so confident, and that’s what I’m trying to bring to the table. I’m trying to find that confidence that Anthony has. I’ve got all the tricky moves now; I’ve just got to throw them.”
He was originally scheduled to throw them against British groundfighting wiz Vaughan Lee, but after Lee was injured, Campuzano got the call to return to the UFC for the first time since 2011.
“I’m used to it happening, and it happens a lot in the sport,” he said. “People get injured and replacements come in. The only thing that’s different now is that Campuzano’s an orthodox fighter and Vaughan Lee was a southpaw. So it’s different angles, but it’s still a fight and I’ve got to react to what he throws at me. I’m ready for this.”
It may be an even better style matchup for Pettis, since he won’t have to look for Campuzano on the feet.
“A fight’s a fight, but I used to watch Campuzano when he was in the WEC,” said Pettis of his foe, who has won five straight since his last UFC appearance. “He was fighting around the same time my brother was and I thought he was tough and a great standup fighter. And now I get to fight this guy. So I’m very excited to fight Will. We’re both gonna keep it standing and we’re both going to try to knock each other out.”
And so it begins. Another Pettis enters the UFC, and the younger one knows that there will always be an extra set of eyes on him. Funny thing is, Sergio Pettis likes it.
“There’s added pressure for sure,” he said. “I’m Anthony Pettis’ little brother, this guy’s kicking off cages, submitting people in the first round in title fights, and they’re looking at me to do the same. And I like that pressure. It makes me want to train harder and be a better fighter.”
Sergio Pettis: The UFC's New Phenom
"There’s added pressure for sure. And I like that pressure. It makes me want to train harder and be a better fighter." - Sergio Pettis