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INTERVIEW | Veteran MMA Fighter Sergio Pettis Shares Insights on His Successful Career

"It's 12 years of professional fighting," Sergio Pettis said, "and I'm slowly building into the fighter that I saw myself becoming when it first started."

Sergio Pettis began his professional MMA journey in the flyweight division with a series of impressive victories, quickly establishing himself as a rising star. His early career was characterized by a blend of technical prowess and an evolving fighting style that set him apart from his peers

Pettis made a strategic move up to the bantamweight division, a decision that would define the next chapter of his mixed martial arts career. This transition proved to be pivotal as he captured the Bellator bantamweight championship in May 2021, showcasing his ability to compete and excel at a higher weight class.

In a significant career development, Pettis is now part of the Professional Fighters League (PFL) roster, following the organization's acquisition of Bellator. This move positions him among an elite group of fighters, providing new opportunities and challenges as he continues to pursue excellence in the sport.

Before facing Kyoji Horiguchi in a highly anticipated rematch at RIZIN 47 on June 9 at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Stadium, the American-born fighter revisited one of the most dramatic moments of his career during an interview with SportsLook.

Their first encounter, which took place on the Bellator 272 card in December 2021 in Uncasville, Connecticut, was nothing short of spectacular. Pettis was trailing on the scorecards, but in a stunning turn of events, he delivered a highlight-reel spinning back fist knockout that left the MMA world in awe. 

Indeed, the rematch promised to be another electrifying chapter in their rivalry, as fans eagerly anticipated whether Pettis could replicate his previous success or if Horiguchi would exact revenge.

Editor's note: Kyoji Horiguchi won by unanimous decision against Sergio Pettis at RIZIN 47.

Sergio Pettis walks out to fight Kyoji Horiguchi at Bellator 272. © Bellator

First Fight in Japan, First Rematch of Sergio Pettis' Career

You have had one of the longest and most active careers in the bantamweight division. Now this fight will mark your 30th bout at the age of 30.

I'm very excited for this fight, you know, out of 30 fights this is my first time fighting underneath the Pride rule set, so it's a whole new world for me. It kinda brought back out that love for the sport. It's just a new playing field and it will open up some new skills.

The martial arts journey has been amazing. I didn't realize that I have 30 fights. It's crazy, and it's catching up to my age with these fights. But I love it more now than ever. It's 12 years of professional fighting, and I feel like I'm slowly building into the fighter that I saw myself becoming when it first started.

It's just a shoe!

On social media, you said it will be the first rematch of your career, and the first time fighting in the Pride set rules with soccer kicks and stomps. What were your immediate thoughts when you were told you'd be fighting in this situation?

It got me excited. It's just a whole new rule set for me. I grew up watching Pride [officially known as the Pride Fighting Championship, which operated from 1997-2007]. So watching the soccer kicks, the stomps, all that is something I grew up watching. Guys like Mirko Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva, there's so many names I can name off.

Now it's my time to go out there and do it. What an opportunity. And it's also the feeling of being in the country where Pride happened. So that's also definitely a cool thing.

It's my first time being in Japan. I'm coming out here fighting, and handling some business.

Sergio Pettis and Kyoji Horiguchi in the center of the cage at Bellator 272. © Bellator

Japanese Fans' Comments on Horiguchi vs Pettis 1

"Horiguchi's control is amazing, but Pettis' ability to land a one-shot knockout is amazing. That was a good match."

"Pettis was a gentleman for not following up with a shot after Horiguchi was knocked out."

"Wow. Sergio is so tough. He has the spirit of not giving up, even though he was down leading up to that fight and it led to his victory. I'm a Horiguchi fan, but Pettis is amazing."

That's awesome. You know how honorable all the Japanese fans are, you know Horiguchi is their boy, and I took him out in a spectacular fashion, and they gave me the props, and I love all the Japanese fans. It was a memorable night, really a memorable night.

After being down on the cards for three rounds, what was going through your mind?

Yeah, I was extremely frustrated for three-and-a-half rounds. I was just like, "Man, I can't hit this guy," he was so fast, with his in-and-out movement. He fought me a lot differently than I expected. I was expecting a stand-up war, and he was taking me down, putting me in positions that were very uncomfortable and very dominant.

I was just thinking, "If I don't land any type of strike, I'm gonna lose this fight." And I went out there with that warrior mindset of not giving up, being optimistic, and knowing my opportunity was there, I just had to find it.

It came out at a perfect time, you know my coach said the right things in the fourth round and it all just turned out to be a perfect picture for me. It was something that I'm very blessed to have in my career.

Sergio Pettis celebrates his victory in Bellator 272. © Bellator

Horiguchi vs Pettis 2

After experiencing your first fight with Horiguchi, what were some of the adjustments that your team made to prepare for this new fight?

This was a whole new fight for both of us. You know we've had some different adjustments throughout our careers. It was about three years ago that we fought. So I believe he's gained some skills and learned from that. And I've gained some skills and learned from that as well.

I fought him a little unconfident. I was defending my title for the first time, and I didn't feel like the champion at the time. Kyoji tore his ACL, and I felt like I was just kind of holding the belt for the meantime while he was returning.

I had a lot of pressure on me, and it was just that pressure that turned me into a diamond. I got to shine that night.

First time to fight in Japan, and in front of Japanese fans.

To come to the place where martial arts is very big, it's like the pinnacle of martial arts ― what an honor and what a journey! You know this is where I wanted to be.

Sergio Pettis shares a moment with his coach, Duke Roufus. © Bellator

Career Highlights and Goals

Can you share some of the highlights of your career that you're particularly proud of so far?

I would honestly say the Kyoji Horiguichi fight 1. That was a fight where I had to face a lot of adversity. My first title defense fight, and coming out with a highlight-reel, spinning-backfist knockout was something that I'll take with me for the rest of my life.

I think that fight with [Patricio] Pitbull [in June 2023 in Chicago, at Bellator 297] as well. You know that was a big test for me. I came off of an ACL injury, I was out for a year and a half, and the promotion threw me to one of the hardest fighters in Bellator. So it definitely threw me to the sharks, and I realized I could swim. I could swim in the deep.

What are some of the future goals you have for your MMA career?

I want to be a champion again. I think this opportunity with RIZIN is going to open up some doors for me if it all goes well. You know I've been asking myself if I want to fight the champion at 135 [pounds] in RIZIN, and that would be amazing for me, an amazing opportunity. 

Getting another belt for my legacy would be a goal of mine. So possibly a RIZIN belt. If not, I've got some unfinished business back over at Bellator and PFL.

Without overlooking Horiguchi, are there any other particular fighters that you're looking forward to facing in the future?

I'd like to get that Patchy Mix fight [in November 2023 in Chicago, Bellator 301] back. I took that fight, and I was a little just out of my head. I was in the wrong headspace. My body was a little thrown off, not taking anything away from him, he's an amazing athlete, but I'd like another chance at that fight. I think I can get back to that belt, and that's my goal.

I'm only 30 years old, and I have a long time left. So I want to make sure people remember who I am, and I feel like a real champion can lose [the belt] and get it back. We've seen GSP [Georges St-Pierre] do it, we've seen a lot of champions do it, so I would love to have that story.

Sergio Pettis with his team and wife pose for a photo in the Bellator cage. © Bellator

Sergio Pettis Reflects on His Career

Looking back on your career so far, is there anything that you would have done differently?

I think I would have been more confident at an earlier age. [For example], I got into the UFC when I was 20 years old and I just didn't believe in myself, [and] I didn't believe in my skill set. I was a young boy fighting a lot of grown men. So my mind was not in the right place at the time.

Once I started taking myself seriously, and finding the right person in my life, too. I got my wife. She's changed my life for me, she's helped me take things more seriously, and just been such a strong force for me, helping me build me into the man I am now.

What advice would you give to your young self when you're entering the pro scene?

Dream bigger and believe in yourself more. There is a lot more that I could have accomplished at a younger age. Just know and believe in yourself. But stay on the journey. You're on the right path.

Sergio Pettis offers a prayer of safety for Kyoji Horiguchi after the knockout. © Bellator

Rapid-Fire Questions for Sergio Pettis

Who is your favorite fighter, obviously outside of your family, to watch?

Georges St-Pierre, he was my favorite fighter, growing up ― GSP.

What's your favorite post-fight meal?

Burgers. I love burgers.

Do you have a favorite fight or moment in MMA history? It can be yours or somebody else's.

You know what, my favorite moment in MMA history is watching my brother [Anthony Pettis] land the showtime kick on Benson Henderson [in December 2010 in a World Extreme Cagefighting match].

I've seen him do that so many times in the gym, and to watch him do it, and in the title fight, it was just inspiring and motivated me to go out there and try to do it myself. Try to land some big moves [in a fight] and become a legend.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received? It can be martial arts-related or just general life advice.

The best advice I've received would be from my mom. And that was, "Always respect yourself and others will respect you." She's very big on taking herself seriously. And you know, just being respectful in all aspects of life to others and to yourself. And I've taken that with me to this day.


Author: Galileo Ferrari

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