When Sergio Pettis faces Tom McKenna at Legends of Fighting Championship 53 “Memoriam” on Friday at the 8 Seconds Saloon in Indianapolis, a contract with the Tachi Palace Fights promotion will be on the line. Pettis will replace Roufusport teammate Chico Camus, who recently signed a UFC contract.
As the brother of former WEC lightweight champion and current UFC star Anthony Pettis, Sergio was pegged as a prospect long before he stepped into the cage. Although “The Phenom” believes he is up for the challenges ahead of him, including an eventual stop in the Octagon, he does not see any reason to rush.
Sergio went the distance for the first time as a professional in his most recent outing, a back-and-forth war against Christopher Haney at a North American Fighting Championship event on May 4. The 18-year-old won every round, but Haney’s aggression provided a bit of a wake-up call.
“I learned a lot from this fight,” Sergio told Sherdog.com afterward. “I don’t think I’m ready for the UFC for two, three more fights. This fight kind of opened my eyes [to the fact] that I just need to be more aggressive.”
His trainer, four-time world kickboxing champion Duke Roufus, echoed those sentiments.
“Sergio is so good that sometimes he goes in there and spars, and I want him to have a little bit more ... to make things land, because everybody that fights Sergio wants to kill him,” he said. “He needs to come in with that same attitude. He’s getting it, though. He knows what he wants to get better at, and he’ll get better. He’s only 18 years old. Sergio has unlimited potential. It’s just ... my biggest thing when I’m coaching him is making sure he has the mindset.
“He’s been sparring since he was a little kid,” Roufus added. “Then, it’s more fun, but you have to realize that when you let that door close behind you, technique goes out the window and [it is about] someone who just wants it worse, who’s badder and tougher. When you get into the cage, it’s a different mindset, but he’ll get it and I’m always proud of him. He’s a big show in his hometown, and I think he handles that quite well. I feel great about how he’s doing.”
Roufus believes Sergio will start making the transition from prospect to fighter who can begin looking toward an eventual career in the UFC when he meets McKenne in the final of the Tachi Tournament.
“If he were to win that, he’d go into [the Tachi Palace Fights promotion], and that’s really going to be his next maturing place,” Roufus said. “I think it’d be good for him. He’s going to be fighting guys with deeper records [and would] get pretty good fights. He might be able to come back here [to Milwaukee] later in the year, but, definitely, he’s going to be looking to fight deeper [and to] get more experience.”
Sergio, who has compiled a 4-0 professional record thus far, has been compared to his highly regarded older brother from day one.
“I’ve got all these people talking about me, saying, ‘Hopefully, he’s as good as his brother.’ It has its negatives and positives, but I just try to look at the bright side,” he said, citing Anthony’s composure as a trait he would like to adopt. “I think once I get that experience I’ll be more relaxed, more comfortable performing. I’m still young, so I get the jitters and stuff, but we have a similar style. We like to kick; we like to keep it standing.”
Roufus draws some clear differences between the two Pettises.
“[Sergio is] a little more textbook,” he said. “Anthony fights outside the box a little more. Anthony does some things really good, and Sergio does some things really good. He’s a work in progress, and Anthony [is], too. All the guys are getting better at wrestling. That’s a big part of fighting, whether it’s defensive [or] offensive. That also gets you really mentally strong in fighting.”
Bellator Fighting Championships welterweight titleholder Ben Askren oversees the wrestling training for the Pettis Brothers. A four-time NCAA All-American and two-time national champion at the University of Missouri, Askren describes Sergio as a calm and reserved student, willing and open to learning new techniques.
“[His wrestling] is getting better all the time,” said Askren, who competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. “He’s a quick learner. He works hard. He’s at practice all the time. He’s very dependable. You know he’s gonna be there every day.”
Askren believes Sergio has developed at a faster rate than his brother: “I would say for the age he’s at, he’s probably a lot better than Anthony was at his same age.”
Embracing a killer instinct may be Sergio’s greatest hurdle.
“He’s a very caring individual,” Roufus said. “He’s always happy. He’s very unselfish, and, in fact, that’s what I’m trying to do -- is make him a little more, as an athlete, is make him a little more selfish. He’s such a good kid, but I’m trying to turn him into a little bit more of Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde.”
While Sergio works on fine-tuning the less-refined aspects of his game, he seems to understand the value in taking his time.
“I’m young. I have plenty of time to grow, so I just need to get more experience and get to the big show when I’m ready,” he said. “I don’t feel ready now, but, sooner or later, I will.”
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