There is no question Sergio “Phenom” Pettis is a one-of-a-kind talent. However, as unique as his ascension to becoming one of MMA’s most intriguing prospects is, Pettis remains relatable on every level to most people outside of his intense dedication to training in hopes of meeting, if not surpassing, the standard set by his big brother, UFC lightweight star Anthony Pettis.
The younger Pettis, who makes his pro debut on Saturday night at CFC 7 in Canada after an undefeated run as an amateur, recently took some time to sit down with Five Ounces of Pain and discussed the rare path he’s taken, as well as the role his relationship with “Showtime” has played in his life and how they are both alike/different as fighters.
“I started training when I was thirteen, fourteen years old,” Pettis recalled. The words are far from hyperbole, as Pettis not only started working out at renowned Milwaukee gym Roufusport as a youngster watching Anthony’s rise in the ranks but even took to the ring before he could legally sit behind the wheel of an automobile.
“My first amateur MMA bout was when I was fifteen,” the featherweight explained. “I wasn’t even supposed to do a MMA fight – I was there for a kickboxing fight – but three weeks out my coaches were like, ‘Hey, let’s just give it a shot,’ so I worked on my jits and wrestling.”
As far as his initial reaction to the bout, Pettis couldn’t help but consider the age difference involved before his training ultimately kicked in – literally.
“I mean I was only 15 at the time and my opponent was 22, so I was thinking he had a way different mental game – he’s a grown man – but I went in there and performed how Duke taught me to perform, kicked the guy in the head and ended the fight early. After that I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. This is my future!’”
Pettis is hoping for a similar result in his professional unveiling this weekend where he faces Kyle Vivian.
“I want to make a highlight reel out of this guy,” Pettis said of his opponent. “I feel like I can do it. I’m gonna try to keep it stand up. That’s what I like to do – standing. If it does go to the ground then I’ll try to submit him as well, but I want this fight to end quick with a knockout.”
His exciting approach and love of striking comes not only from his time with Duke Roufus but his relationship with his older sibling, as much a mentor as simply one of his family members.
“Anthony is awesome as not only a training partner but a brother. He’s always there for me for anything. And I’m learning from his mistakes too. Like his last fight (against Clay Guida) he had the wrong gameplan. He learned from his mistakes and is trying to help me not repeat the same ones. It’s awesome having him as a brother and a training partner. He’s just awesome.”
Where they differ, at least right now, comes to confidence based on ring-time.
“Anthony is so comfortable in his game right now so he does all these crazy things. Me, I’m still a little more conservative in my moves,” Pettis admitted. “I can throw the moves but I don’t want to make any mistakes. Once I’m as experienced as him I’ll be able to throw those kicks but right now I’m just calm, relaxed, and trying to end the fight.”
Then again, that doesn’t mean they have things in common either, with Pettis elaborating on the topic of stylistic comparison, “We’re both stand-up fighters – we love kickboxing, we love standing up, but we’re keeping at wrestling and jiu-jitsu too. We’re working on that altogether. We have Ben Askren, a great wrestler, on our team now. We have Alan Belcher. Having all those guys together is making us into complete fighters and we’re gonna show the world what we can do.”
That journey starts with a win in Winnipeg to start his paying career out on the right note. Until then, the 18-year old who celebrated his birthday last month will keep training six days a week with some of the sport’s best. It’s a situation he knows he is fortunate to have despite some of the struggles he endured as a youth including the murder of his father when Pettis was only a child.
“I never thought I would be a professional at any sport so knowing I’m a pro at a sport I love feels incredible. Without God blessing me with the right people like Anthony, my Mom, and Duke…I wouldn’t be here. They kept me on the wrong path. I could have done so much wrong but they kept me straight.”
Pettis concluded on a note of appreciation as well, saying, “Shout out to Roufusport, all the guys out there. Shout out to my Mom and to Giuseppe for getting me this fight.”
Overwhelmingly humble, yet extraordinarily gifted in the ring, Pettis is not only a fighter fans should keep their eye on but a great example for other people his age; a “phenom” indeed.