The Pettis name is one that has infiltrated the MMA media and fan forums for the past several years, largely due to former WEC Lightweight Champion “Showtime” Anthony Pettis’ (15-2) numerous highlight reel knockouts, overall dominance of the 155lbs. division, and high-flying kicks, including an off-the-cage kick, dubbed “The Showtime Kick”, over now UFC lightweight champ “Smooth” Ben Henderson (16-2). However, a new family member is making the value of the Pettis last name soar even higher – “The Phenom” Sergio Pettis (3-0), another Roufusport prodigy and Anthony’s younger brother, is making his own name in the sport. Eighteen-year-old Sergio has gone 3-0 as a professional fighter and 4-0 as an amateur and now looks to make the cut from his usual bantamweight class to flyweight for his May 4 match-up against “Bad Boy” Chris Haney (3-2) at NAFC: Colosseum in Sergio’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. MMA Gospel staff writer Matt Homeyer sat down with Sergio just hours before his brother’s main card fight at UFC 144 to discuss training with one of the top camps in the sport, sparring with one of the most eccentric strikers in the UFC, “stealing” nicknames, and how he feels about taking on the 125lbs. division.
You train out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Roufusport, one of the fastest growing and most revered fight camps in the US. How long have you been training there, and how is the camp different now as opposed to when you started out?
I’ve been training with Duke [Roufus] and the guys there since I was 14, so like four years now. When I first started I wasn’t that serious about it. I didn’t know I was going to be a professional in the sport and I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. We had a lot of bigger guys like heavyweights, and now we have a lot of bantamweights, flyweights, and featherweights so it’s changed a lot.
Surely a lot of fighters would like to be in your shoes, training with the likes of MMA’s elite young blood like Erik Koch, Danny Downes, and your brother Anthony Pettis, all under the tutelage of Duke Roufus. How important do you think it is to belong to a team with such a strong backbone, especially while coming up in the sport?
It means a lot. I got to keep representing the team and make sure I’m doing good. I got to get to their level. Everyone in camp is just getting better and better. Anthony is looking at his best right now, and Koch is right there too. It’s a great gym to come from. I’m just trying to stick with them and progress as they progress.
When training and sparring with your brother Anthony, does sibling rivalry ever become a factor?
(Laughs) Yeah man, we go at it. We’ll be sparring and he’ll hit me hard and I’m like, “alright now I got to tag him back”. And it’s back-and-forth. We keep composed but we go at it pretty hard.
Does having a family member who has been so successful in MMA put additional pressure on you to perform well or adopt the same flashy fighting style as your older brother?
Yeah you know a lot of people are expecting me to jump off the cage and stuff like that but I’m a little bit of a different fighter. I try not to do as many flashy moves; it’s not really my thing. I’ll throw a couple in there, I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve. But Anthony, he’s got some balls, man. He throws those kicks and stuff whenever he wants. Once I feel comfortable enough and on his level I’ll throw them kicks with as much technique as he does.
It has been said that the advanced level of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you possess in such an early stage of your career puts you ahead of where your brother was when he began his fighting career. Do you think there is any truth to that?
I think it’s the wrestling, actually. My brother didn’t wrestle at all in high school but I did so I know the basics and fundamentals. I feel like that’s the only difference between us. I don’t have better wrestling, I just learned it at a younger age. Early in his career he didn’t really know much wrestling so I feel like that’s the big difference -I know how to attack and defend it.
Can you give us the background of how you were dubbed “The Phenom”?
My first nickname was actually “Serg and Destroy” but Sergio Gomez , he has that nickname. I didn’t want to steal his nickname. One of my friends always called me “The Phenom”. I don’t know why, probably because I was pretty good at a young age. I liked it because Pettis and Phenom both start with “P”. Then I realized that Vitor Belfort has that nickname, so I’m just stealing everyone’s nicknames out here. I might just stick with Sergio Pettis, I don’t know.
Your calculated attacks, speedy footwork, and high-flying kicks appear to be almost effortless. Is this actually the case, or is it more the result of a lot of hard training?
I train hard, I’m pretty much on the same training schedule as Anthony. I train twice a day every day except for Sundays we take the day off. Then between those trainings I have next level training, everything is just muscle memory and I’m just able to react in that way. Even when I’m not in fight camp I’m still training twice a day just trying to get better at everything.
Just three fights into your professional fighting career, opponents seem to already be in fear of your right head kick. Do you feel as though because they may be expecting you to throw that kick, they may not be as mindful of other aspects of your skill set?
Yeah a lot of people are talking about that right head kick right now but I got a left leg, too. I really didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to in these last fights but this next fight I’m going to do everything I can. I’m going to try to incorporate more and expand my game. My goal in this one is to elbow him and knee him. I’m going to clinch with him and if it goes to the ground I’m looking to submit him. They’re going to fear my right head kick but there are more aspects of my game they have to fear as well.
In regard to being undefeated in both your professional and amateur MMA careers, is there additional pressure when going into a fight, or does it build your confidence?
There is a little bit of pressure, I mean nobody wants to lose. I try to take the negative pressure and turn it positive. I feel like if I’m not nervous before I fight then I’m not ready. Knowing that I’m undefeated and that I don’t want to lose puts the nerves in me and that makes me perform a lot better.
What do you find more satisfying when you’re in the cage – landing a huge kick, a powerful punch, or locking in a fight-ending submission?
All of that is awesome. My favorite, though, are the kicks. It just makes you feel awesome knocking someone out and finishing them. But submissions are good, too!
On May 4 you are making your flyweight debut at NAFC: Colosseum against Chris Haney in your hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. How are you feeling about this match-up? Do you have different expectations for your performance being in a lighter weight bracket?
I think I’m going to be a lot stronger in this weight bracket. I think I’ll be a bigger 125er. But for this fight I’m just going to go out there and have some fun. I want to do different moves – I’m going to use my knees and elbows and all the other aspects of my game. This guy I heard is a bit taller so I’m probably going to have to stay in close so he can’t use his range on me. It’s a little bit different from my other fights; my other fights I was either the same height or maybe a little taller so yeah this one will be a little bit different.
What has your experience been like thus far preparing for a fight at a lighter weight class? Do you intend to stay in this weight class?
Yeah, I’m planning on staying at this weight class because they just opened a [flyweight] class in the UFC. It’s fresh and I just want to jump in and hopefully I can make it into the UFC. Preparing for this fight is going to be a little bit different. The weight cut might be a little bit harder since it will be about 25lbs. and I’m not really that fat so it might be a little draining on me, but I’ve got a strict diet for this camp so I’ll be fine.
Who are some of your favorite fighters? Are there any that particularly influence your style or career?
My favorite fighter hands down is Anderson Silva. He’s just so calm and so composed and he’ll hit people from every angle. That’s what I want to be like one day, being able to clinch people, knock them out with kicks, and just make them look clueless out there.
What is your ultimate goal in respect to being a professional MMA fighter? Do you expect to see yourself in the big leagues like the UFC or Strikeforce any time soon?
The scouting report came out and I was number 3 for the 125lbs. division so maybe if I win a couple more fights hopefully in the next year or two I’ll be in the UFC. I want to be there obviously but I don’t want to rush into it. I want to be a complete fighter by the time I get there so I can show off and perform to my capability.
With Milwaukee being a recent hot bed for MMA, what are your thoughts on AB-308, a bill that would ban MMA in some parts of Wisconsin? What effects do you feel this could have on the sport?
From what I’ve heard about it there is only one town that really wants to ban it so it’s not really that big of an issue. If it does become a big issue and they take MMA away from Wisconsin it would kind of suck. I like fighting in front of my family and friends. Also, I would have to travel more and probably wouldn’t fight as much. So that could ruin my career a little bit but I don’t think it’s that big of an issue right now. I’m just riding it out and hoping that nothing big happens.
Thanks for your time, Sergio. Is there anybody you would like to thank?
Yeah I want to give a shout out to Duke Roufus, and a shout out to my brother Anthony who’s fighting tonight [at UFC 144] – hopefully he lands a head kick and can pick up that bonus tonight*
*Sergio got his wish. Anthony Pettis defeated Joe Lauzon in the first round with a “Knockout of the Night” winning head kick.