Bellator 297: Sergio Pettis Discusses Self-Improvement, Taking Out “Big Fish”

Sergio Pettis was in a tough spot in 2018. He had lost three of his last four fights to ranked opposition and the UFC was trying to get rid of the flyweight division for good. He would end up leaving in free agency for Bellator after his last UFC win, a decision over Tyson Nam, but it was the loss before that to Rob Font that really was a turning point for him.

“Rob Font was another good dude I fought. He beat me up in my hometown so that was a little humbling and a big eye-opener. Honestly a career-changing moment when I lost to Rob Font,” Pettis told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “I promised myself that I wouldn’t put myself in situations that I’m not prepped for and after that I’ve been 5-0. So yeah, I think Rob Font personally is my toughest fight.”

When asked to elaborate on past issues that led to him not being prepared for Font, he explained, “I took two back-to-back losses. I lost to Jussier Formiga, who was I think number one or number two at the time. [I] went up to bantamweight a month and a half later and fought Rob Font and after that I was just like, ‘I got to take this serious.’ Or, not that I wasn’t taking it serious but when you’re at this high level there’s no room for error, there’s no room for any pessimistic thoughts or any second-guessing yourself. And that’s who I was back then. I was a big person that second-guessed a lot that he did. And now that I’m older I feel that I know my role and my goals and no more second-guessing. Just trusting myself and trusting the work.”

That second guessing led to a lot of anxiety for Pettis. “It’s something that I lacked, something that I had my whole life, even before my career. I was a very shy kid, had a lot of anxiety, a lot of issues that kind of made me feel a little different, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this sport or maybe I’m not good enough to be in this sport or with these top tier guys. After that I got rid of those thoughts; I really got my head cleared and I realized that I’m one of the best to do this and I just got to put everything together, put my life together and put my work together.”

Now, Pettis is a champion and coming off of the most high profile win of his career. Having achieved success despite dealing with mental health challenges, Sergio Pettis has advice that could be useful for anyone dealing with anxiety, not just fighters.

“I stopped being the person I was trying to portray. I stopped going out a lot, I stopped drinking a lot. I guess I really had to tune in on myself and I started reading a lot of books. Anytime that I had a negative thought I had the idea to attach two positive thoughts to it. So anytime I had these pessimistic thoughts that were just reoccurring I could just change up my cycle and start thinking better [and] start living better – just surrounding myself with people who are amazing. I got a beautiful fiancé who helps me out so much; in the fight game and outside the fight game she helps me get my head clear, too. Just having the correct people around, the people who want to see you do [well] and encourage you trust in yourself and believe in yourself. Eventually you will get to that point.”

Despite having a world famous brother, former WEC/UFC lightweight champ Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis, Sergio never wanted to compare himself to him. But it still makes him happy to have a highlight reel knockout on the same level as the ‘Showtime Kick.’

“It feels good, I come into this sport not really trying to compare myself or compete against my brother, Anthony, because obviously that’s a huge resume to compete against, but it feels good to step outside of that point fighter, you know I’m a ‘point fighter.’ I’m very smart out there; I try to not get any damage done to me, so to go out there and get a finish like that and to sleep a man – that was crazy. It was a whole different experience, almost like a dream come true, it was a wild moment.”

Still, that did not necessarily change people’s perception, he said when asked. “I think people still overlook me. I feel like a lot of people haven’t caught on to my wave yet and it’s just a matter of time. I feel like I got to keep on getting some more wins; these knockouts where people are seeing that Sergio Pettis is something to watch out for.”

Sergio has fought a who’s who of fighters at 125 and 135lbs. In his Bellator fights alone he will soon have fought two of the best fighters in the world: Patricio Pitbull and Kyoji Horiguchi. He has trouble comparing the two though and saying who is better.

“It was definitely very different fighting Kyoji. He was very fast and he was smart, man, very high IQ fighter, which I’m expecting the same from Pitbull. He’s fast, he’s smart, explosive, we’ll see how he does with the weight cut; extra ten pounds can do a lot, I used to fight at 125 and the way I felt at 125 to 135 is night and day, so we’ll see how he does with that. I know he’s a competitor and he’s going to prep himself and put himself in the best case scenario.”

That extra ten pounds is a lot, to be sure, but now Bellator are adding a flyweight division, per reports. Sergio is not completely opposed to fighting back down at 125lbs and going for double champ status though.

“I’m very dedicated and committed to diet as well, so I feel like I definitely could make twenty-five again if the opportunity presented itself. But as of right now how I feel at thirty-five – I’m happy, I get to eat what [I want] – I get to enjoy life, at twenty-five it’s a whole different game, I got to be extremely strict, there’s no room for error, no room for cheat days. I like getting my cheat days in every now and then. We’ll see how it goes, see how this fight plays out and if there’s a chance to be a double champ I’d definitely love to take that opportunity.”

The fight being in the Midwest means a lot to Pettis, and he feels because of the location that his fans will come out to support him strongly, making him potentially the A-side of this superfight.

“I think – making it a Midwest fight – I think a lot of my fans are going to be out there, a lot of my family, friends, so I feel it’s like, ‘USA baby.’ He’s from Brazil. I’m going to go out there and represent America, represent the Midwest scene in general. There’s a big MMA scene out here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Chicago, Detroit, Michigan. So I’m excited to really represent us.”

“Last time I fought in Chicago was like 2017… I fought Joseph Benavidez, put the paws on him, came out victorious. I’m expecting the same thing, but we’ll see, like you said, another legend, he’s another legend of the sport and Patricio is definitely a big fish out there man. I’m a fisherman trying to catch these big fish.”

With all these big names on his resume, Pettis was asked if there is any name in particular he would like to cross off before the end of his career. He answered, “A dream fight for me is honestly to get back that fight against Henry Cejudo. I fought Henry Cejudo when I was 24 years old and the mentality and the work ethic that I had back then is just not who I am five years later. That would be a great match-up. To get that one back is just an ego thing, I really want that one and he’s a big name.”

However, up next for Sergio if he beats Patricio Pitbull will be bantamweight­­­ grand prix winner Patchy Mix. Patchy is a grappler primarily, so his knockout of Raufeon Stots in the final had Pettis reacting like most MMA fans.

“Definitely surprised. I was watching that fight and when it happened I was like, almost like a mouth open moment where I’m just like, ‘Ohhh man.’ Patchy has been on a tear man, he’s been looking amazing, his grappling as high-level as always, that’s what he’s known for. He’s at that age, we’re very similar in age I think he’s like two days older than me. So we’re both at that age where we’re hungry and we both know what we want. And you can see it in his performances; he’s a high-level competitor and he’s coming out there to try to finish guys, hurt guys, and make his name get bigger and bigger. And he’s now a millionaire! Big year for Patchy Mix last year.”

An avid reader who enjoys self-help books including The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Pettis recognizes that as a pro fighter, the sport can dominate your life. Although Sergio primarily watches combat-related content, he also likes other sports.

“You know what –  I just started watching basketball again. I was really into basketball when I was younger, I thought I was going to be a point guard but I was like 5’5” so I had to switch sports. Had to go to wrestling, had to go to boxing. Honestly, I’m a big combat sports guy, so if I’m not watching MMA I’m watching boxing and I’m watching a lot of Muay Thai. It’s hard to kind of get away from that once you’re so in tune with it.”

With that in mind, we asked Sergio Pettis who helped draw him towards a career in mixed martial arts. His answer was a common one, “The fighter I really loved watching growing up was GSP, that was literally the guy that I wanted to be. So humble, such a hard worker. He didn’t really wrestle and have all that stuff growing up. He just kind of grew into the sport and became this amazing champion with hard work. GSP was definitely one of the guys I looked up to. I remember crying when he lost to Matt Serra, that’s how much that I loved GSP.”

A student of the game, when it comes to who he likes to watch these days, Pettis’ answer reflected his quest for knowledge. Not to mention competitive advantage.

“Guys that I tune into the most are guys I try to steal stuff from. [Vasiliy] Lomachenko, I love watching Lomachenko fight. Even Devin Haney, such a young athlete and so smart at what he does. I actually got to meet him, he was cool… I don’t agree with the judges on the scorecards, I think it was a lot closer than what they called it, but honestly it could’ve gone either way. Loma started picking it up towards the end and Haney was just establishing that beginning game – just jabbing him up, keeping his range. I’d have to go with Loma, man. Another fighter I like to watch, [Conor] McGregor honestly. I liked his upcoming with the karate stance, the style, the counter-striker, the confidence in himself.”

Sergio Pettis takes on Patricio Pitbull for the Bellator bantamweight championship in the co-main event of Bellator 297 in Chicago, Illinois on Friday, June 16, 2023.