Although you likely haven’t heard the name Sergio Pettis yet, the surname is a familiar one thanks to his older brother Anthony, who introduced the Pettis pedigree to the MMA masses fans with his underdog WEC lightweight championship win over Ben Henderson. His breakout performance was capped off by a highlight reel kick that fans and pundits alike are still talking about.
Sergio is Anthony’s younger brother, who shares not only his older brother’s passion for the sport, but also his innate fighting abilities. Dubbed “Phenom” by his Roufusport teammates, Sergio, who at 17 sports a 4-0 amateur tally, is set to make his professional debut September 9 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada under the Canadian Fighting Championships banner.
He credits Roufusport head Duke Roufus and his brother for helping mould him into the fighter he’s become, but says his goals are simply to keep winning and to hopefully one day follow in Anthony’s footsteps and make it to the UFC. Although that may seem like a lofty aim, for a teenager who abstained from partying and pigging out like most teenagers partake in, in favor of rolling and sparring in the hopes that he would one day reach his goal, it would be more of a surprise to see him not get there.
We spoke with Sergio recently and touched on a number of topics from why he got into fighting to if he ever claimed to be the inventor of the Showtime Kick.
Check out what Sergio had to say below.
Thanks for taking the time to talk today, Sergio.
How old are you now?
I’m still 17. I turn 18 in August.
So did you have to wait until you turned 18 to turn pro?
My [pro debut] is September 9. I had to wait until I was 18 to fight.
Are you still in school?
I just graduated from high school. I finished in May. Since then I’ve been training pretty much every day two times a day except for Sundays.
I’ve been training there about two years. I started after Anthony, but I wasn’t training there full-time. I jumped in and out when I was younger. I did kickboxing to start. Now I’m training full-time and it’s been about two years.
(Video courtesy of YouTube/Zapman111)
I know your older brothers both started fairly young in Taekwondo and you’re a few years younger than them. Did you do Taekwondo first or did you start training in MMA or kickboxing from the start?
We all started off doing Taekwondo. Our mom got us into it. From there, Anthony advanced to MMA. Seeing him do it, I got interested in it and jumped in as well.
Talking to young fighters early in their careers like Rory MacDonald and Chris Horodecki, they would explain that it took a lot of dedication and self control to go to the gym and train and not go out and party or hang out with their friends doing things like eating junk food and normal things that teenagers do. How did you stay focused and motivated when you had distractions like that?
I was really motivated. I wanted to make sure that I never ruined my chances of achieving this goal. Anthony is pretty much my best friend, so I can hang out with him and have a great time like I would hanging out with my friends. Mostly, staying dedicated to the sport and staying in the gym kept me out of all of the partying and stuff. Having Duke always tell me that I’m going to be great in the future makes me want to make him happy and proud of me and make myself happy and proud of myself. That’s why I stayed in the gym and did what I had to do.
You were featured somewhat in Anthony’s “World of Jenks” episode but we never really got to know much about you from that glimpse, but it seemed like you were observing first hand what Anthony’s experience was like as his popularity rose and he became more and more successful and were making mental notes. Is that when you first started thinking, “Yeah, I could do this for a living?”
For sure. Seeing Anthony be able to do what he loves every day is awesome. I don’t want to be one of these people who are stressed out every day from their jobs. This sport is stressful. It’s nerve-wracking, but I love it. Seeing him do what he does and be happy about it made me want to do that as well.
Something fighters always mention as being a harsh reality of the sport is how when you’re on top everybody loves you and wants to know you, but when you lose, everybody dumps on you or forgets you exist. Has it been tough seeing how fickle people can be?
I see the friends and fans that come when he’s on top. Everybody wants to be a part of it, but you lose that and you lose a lot of them and a lot of fans as well. Everybody loves a winner. I’m learning a lot through Anthony — not only about fighting, but also the marketing and everything else that’s part of being a fighter. I learned a lot about the friend thing. I see it all the time. I think it’s pretty amusing.
During the World of Jenks show, your mom said that she always had a hard time watching Anthony’s fights and that she would get so nervous that she would wait in the back until she knew he won and would watch the replay. You’re the baby of the family. Is she the same way with you?
Actually, I don’t know why, but my mom always tells me that she’s scared watching Anthony’s fights, but for my fights she feels more relaxed watching them. She still has that sense of fear, but she isn’t as nervous watching me fight for whatever reason. I don’t know why that is. I’ll have to talk to her about it. She doesn’t want me to do this sport. She always says, “You’re going to get beat up and your face is going to get all ruined.” But she plays her role and she does it well.
What’s your favorite part of fighting?
My favorite part is before the fight when you’re in the locker room. All the nerves that you feel, it’s kind of like going on your first rollercoaster. There’s so much emotion; I just love that feeling. It’s something different than any other feeling. That’s pretty much my favorite part out there, just waiting in the back.
(Video courtesy of YouTube/gfgraik1)
Are there any times you’ve claimed that you taught Anthony the Showtime Kick?
(laughing) No, I can’t take credit for that one, man. He did it one day, I can’t remember what day it was, but it was a long time ago. He just did it, you know, and it was awesome. I kind of stole it now. I try to add my own stuff to it, and do something different, but I can’t claim that one, man. That one’s all his.
Not even when you’re trying to impress the ladies?
No, I can’t even do that.
Coming in with a striking background, it was probably a little tougher for you to pick up the ground game. I remember talking to even Pat Barry, and he says that jiu-jitsu is a whole different animal. You come in being an athlete that’s used to kicking people in the head and punching people, and he said that it’s a totally different ball game once you get in there. What was harder for you to learn, the jiu-jitsu or wrestling?
I actually think the wrestling was harder for me. Wrestling is such a tough sport and to mix it with kickboxing and jiu-jitsu, it was tough. During wrestling season I did a lot of jiu-jitsu, so I was used to being on my back, and with the wrestling I’d get put on my back and I’d be like, ‘Crap, I’ve got to get out, I’ve got to get out.’ So, wrestling’s a grind, man. I respect those guys that do it, and I think that was the hardest part for me…wrestling.
Now you’re coming in as this new breed of fighter, I know it’s been talked about before, but guys like yourself and Josh Grispi and Rory MacDonald have all had the benefit of training in MMA for pretty much your whole career. Besides the Taekwondo training you had as a child, which you’ve likely had to modify for effectiveness in the cage, you’ve trained pretty much since the beginning in MMA. You aren’t coming in with just one skill-set. Do you see that as a benefit that you’ve learned all of your skills at one time, basically as “mixed martial arts,” as opposed to say learning just wrestling, and then picking up other disciplines as you go?
Yeah, I think learning it all together helps a lot. You see these one-dimensional fighters nowadays, and they’re not doing as well as the people that are good at kickboxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. You know you can’t be great at just one thing. So I think being good at multiple things helps out a lot, for sure. The sport’s evolving, and you have to be good at everything now, you can’t just be good at one thing.
Now I know Duke’s got the rule that there’s no fighting outside of the gym, but Rory mentioned that in high school when people found out he was a fighter, he’d always have people coming up to him at parties wanting to test themselves against him, or say stuff to him trying to provoke him to fight. Have you had a lot of people trying to start problems and wanting to make a name off of themselves by picking a fight with you?
To be honest, not really at all. I don’t go to many parties, so I don’t know much about that kind of drama. I have kids that play around, like come up to me and say, “Oh, you fight?” like, playing around, but I’m a pretty liked guy where I’m from, like I’m really cool with everyone, so I haven’t really experienced anything like that yet.
I haven’t heard anything about your nickname. Do you have one?
Right now it’s “Phenom,” but Vitor Belfort has that name, so I don’t know, I might just be Sergio Pettis, I don’t know. (laughing)
I’m sure something will stick once you get out there. Now, how did you come to sign with for this Canadian Fighting Championships. Isn’t Duke affiliated somehow with CFC owner, Giuseppe DeNatale?
Yeah, he and Duke are really close friends and I guess they used to train together, so that’s how he got the connection to all the Canadians out there.
Have you ever been to Canada before?
No, this is my first time.
It’s a nice place. You’ll enjoy it. Do you know anything about your opponent?
I haven’t heard anything yet about him. I’m guessing I’ll find out in late July, about everything about him; his weight and how he fights.
You’ll have the benefit of having Anthony in your corner for the fight, which is basically a threefold bonus in that he’s your brother, your best friend and your training partner. He probably knows you better than anybody, besides yourself, and knows how to calm you down and keep you focused. Is that a different dynamic than you have with your other coaches?
Yeah. Your brother and best friends know you a lot more personally and can tell when something is wrong without you having to tell them. But Duke’s a good friend, too. He knows when I’m having a bad day and when I’m on fire. Anthony and Duke play such important roles in my corner. They calm me down and keep me composed and they help me out as much as possible.
Now do you get, being one of the younger guys on the team, to you get pranked or teased a lot by guys like Pat Barry?
Not really. Well, growing up, sometimes, they were like, ‘Turn him into a man,” and start turning it up on me in sparring, but I’d still strike with them back and I’d wrestle with them. I get beat up here and there, but I’d rather get beat up in the gym than in the fight, so they’re just trying to turn me into a man, I guess.
Yeah, they say “iron sharpens iron” and you’re training with one of the best camps out there, especially striking wise. Maybe that’s why you’ve made it to this point in so soon where you’re ready to make your pro debut.
Yeah, for sure. We had Ben Askren came down to wrestle, and we got his wrestling coach. We’ve got everything now. The gym is just becoming great with not only kickboxing, but wrestling and jiu-jitsu. It’s just awesome.
What weight do you fight at?
I fight at 135.
How tall are you?
Right now I’m only like, 5’7″
So you could foreseeably go up to 145 or so if you get bigger as you continue to grow.
Yeah, I’m a little bit smaller than Anthony is, but he was short too, so maybe I’ll grow. I don’t know yet.
Do you work, like as a trainer or an outside job?
Oh yeah, we have our own Taekwondo gym, so I teach at that gym as well and I teach kickboxing and kids MMA [at Roufusport].
I know it’s early since you’re heading into your first fight, but I a lot of fighters set some private and some public goals where they’ll say, “I want to fight this many times,” or “I want to get a win and then we’ll go from there.” Have you set any goals?
My goal is to stay undefeated, and to try to get into the UFC by the time I’m 19 1/2 going on 20, that’s my main goal.
With the dedication that you have and the guidance that you have from Duke and Anthony, that’s an achievable goal, which must seem pretty surreal.
Yeah, for sure. It’s crazy, I went from the prom to the pros.
You should do a web documentary and call it “From the Prom to the Pros”
I know that there will be a lot of these since you’re new to the scene, but what’s an interesting fact about you that you haven’t really talked about?
Ummm…. that’s a hard question, actually. I have to put some thought into that one.
When I asked Pat that one, he told me he can’t sleep without a pillowcase over his head.
That doesn’t surprise me. Pat’s a crazy guy. Let’s see… man, that’s a really hard question.
Oh…I actually did this thing called “extreme martial arts,” I don’t know if you know what that is; it’s like flips with like, a form that you make up. I did that a lot as a kid and I’m really good at flips.
Do you do celebratory flips after your fights?
Yeah, I do that a lot, actually. I’ve got some crazy flips I can just throw off after a victory.
Well, man, that’s all I have for you. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and am looking forward to your fight. Is there anyone you want to thank for helping you train for your upcoming fight and for the opportunities you’ve gotten?
Yeah, I’d like to thank Giuseppe for getting this fight and Duke for getting me this fight, and all my training partners, Roufusport, Phil, the guy who’s getting me all these interviews, and I want to thank you for this interview.
My pleasure. Hopefully we can talk with you again before or after the fight.
For sure. Give me a call any time.
Hopefully everything goes well with this fight, great talking to you, and have a great night.
You too. Thanks.