A pair of top bantamweight prospects will officially bring Bellator back to action as title hopeful Ricky Bandejas squares off with Sergio Pettis this Friday at Bellator 242.
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 15, 2020
At first, it seemed a bit perplexing for Sergio Pettis to leave the UFC in free agency in 2019. Still a young prospect with his prime years still ahead of him, he walked away as both of the divisions that he had competed in, flyweight and bantamweight, were getting as exciting as they had ever been in recent years. While previously relegated to the shadow of his older brother as he entered the Octagon, Pettis established himself as a strong contender in his own right with wins over the likes of Joseph Benavidez and Brandon Moreno. Last year, Pettis left the Octagon in free agency with the chance to make a more immediate impact in rival Bellator.
As far as promotional debuts go, Pettis could hardly have asked for a better one in January. After having spent six years in the UFC, he injected new life into the shallow Bellator bantamweight division when he throttled Alfred Kashakyan with a first round stoppage that announced him as a major player in the weight class. The victory was an absolute mauling, leaving fans and pundits alike pencilling Pettis in for a fight with contenders like Juan Archuleta or James Gallegher for the vacant title.
.@RickyBandejas shocked the world in his Bellator debut!
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 22, 2020
Few fighters have ever had the kind of breakout performance that Ricky Bandejas had back in 2018. Building up a quiet 10-1 in New Jersey’s Cage Fury Fighting Championships, the Florida product was an unknown taking on brash prospect James Gallegher. It was the perfect scene, the boisterous Irishman taunting Bandejas inside the cage before being brutally stopped with a first round knockout that made the rounds on Sportscenter and was a candidate for Knockout of the Year.
Bandejas went from prospect to top contender, and Bellator thrust him into back-to-back fights with fellow title hopefuls Juan Archuleta and Patrick Mix. Coming up short in both fights, the young fighter who had enjoyed a quick ascent was just as quickly in the midst of a rebuild. Bellator held steadfast in their commitment to him, keeping him active as he notched wins over Ahmet Kayretli and Frans Miambo. In Bellator’s much anticipated return, Bandejas now has a huge opportunity to get back into the title conversation should he turn away the bigger name in Pettis.
Stylistically, Pettis should look to work leg-kicks and takedowns to neutralize the striking of Bandejas. While Pettis has shown himself to be competent on the feet, Bandejas has shown holes in his ground game that Pettis would be foolish not to try and exploit early and often. Bandejas should look to work behind a crisp jab and keep Pettis at the end of his strikes where he has the best chance to control the distance and use his full arsenal.
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 20, 2020
Currently, aforementioned contenders Archuleta and Mix are expected to compete for the vacant title later this year and a victory for Pettis figures to make him the next title challenger. Bandejas would likely need another high profile victory or two before challenging either man potentially considering his losses to both men in recent years makes a rematch difficult to promote at this juncture.