He’s only 19, but Sergio Pettis has done plenty of living.
Perhaps that explains Pettis' proclivity to make lemonade when the lemon truck dumps a package on his doorstep. Life has fashioned that proclivity for him, ensuring he doesn't lapse too deeply into concern or apathetic cliche when a curveball comes over the plate.
Case in point: Jeff Curran, Pettis' original opponent for the main event of Friday's Resurrection Fighting Alliance 8, casually dropping out of their fight a week and a half before it was set to go down.
“It sucks, man. I was really upset,” Pettis admitted. “I was really looking forward to fighting Curran. He was a big name and it would have been good to beat a big name.”
Now Pettis (7-0) faces replacement Dillard "Smokin' Joe" Pegg (5-1) at RFA 8, taking place in Pettis' home town of Milwaukee. All that's on the line is the inaugural RFA flyweight title and that spotless resume that MMA's biggest employers find so very attractive.
Pettis is rightly a heavy favorite, but Pegg presents a different skill set than the one for which Pettis has been training all these weeks. Like Pettis, Pegg is a tae kwon do black belt and will be a bigger knockout threat than Curran. Despite his disappointment and the midstream change, Pettis has no problem finding the good.
“With Curran, I was training more take down defense and jiu-jitsu,” Pettis said. “This guy will try to stand with me, but I love that...This will be fireworks. I’m trying to end this fast. I respect him for coming in on short notice, and he’s confident, but I picture myself ending it quickly.”
That wouldn’t be a first for the young flyweight. Like his older brother, UFC lightweight contender Anthony, Sergio Pettis knows how to light a fuse, combining inventive kickboxing techniques with serious power and solid submission skills. In his short pro career, Pettis already has four wins by stoppage, three of which came in the opening stanza.
The matchup change is also nothing new for House Pettis. It’s the second consecutive time Sergio’s opponent has caused a strategic scramble with a last-second back-out. Meanwhile, thanks to a meniscus tear, Anthony sits sidelined instead of gearing up for a UFC 163 featherweight title fight with champ Jose Aldo.
But here's why none of that matters, at least in the bigger picture: It's just sports adversity. And it pales in comparison to the real thing, which the Pettis boys have faced in spades.
It has been well documented that in November 2003, when Anthony was 16 years old and Sergio only 10, their father, Eugene, was stabbed to death during a robbery attempt. Police never made an arrest.
After the tragedy, the siblings understandably lost their way for a while, stewing in the same boiling cauldron of crime on the south side of Milwaukee that consumed their father, as far as possible from the beer-n-brats stereotypes many have of the city.
“We’d hear shootings around us all the time," Pettis said. "It was everywhere. There would always be fights and people around that I realized later were drug dealers. It was bad."
After Eugene Pettis' death, martial arts kept Sergio, Anthony and eldest brother Rey from drifting too far afield. They were longtime tae kwon do students, but their interest was flagging. Enter famed kickboxer and trainer Duke Roufus and his MMA gym in Milwaukee.
“Tae kwon do helps with confidence and leadership,” Pettis said. “It makes you want to be somebody that people can look up to. Rey paved the way for Anthony, and Anthony paved the way for me.”
Sergio and Anthony overcame a rocky earlier relationship in part through training. They now live together and get along—for the most part.
“We didn’t see eye to eye,” Pettis said. “He’d come up and low kick me from behind, stuff like that. We get along now, though. He’s a good roommate. But he can still bug me. Like while I’m cutting weight, he sits there and eats whatever he wants.”
At RFA 8, Pettis faces Pegg for the right to don the promotion’s inaugural flyweight strap. Not bad for a guy who can’t yet legally enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Well into his week of weight-cutting, Sergio's youth peeks through as he talks wistfully of Cookie Crisp and all-you-can-eat buffets. If his past is any indication, though, Pegg won't get that glimpse Friday night.
“The crowd’s going to be all for me. That feels amazing, man. I’ll have all my family and friends in the crowd, and I don’t want to let them down," Pettis said. "It’s a young age to have a belt. It would be ideal if I could get it, defend it a couple times, and then get a call from the big show. I think my standup is better than a lot of the UFC guys. I think I’m ready for the UFC whenever they call me. I think I’m a force at flyweight.”
The Beaten Path is an article series profiling MMA prospects. Read the previous installment here. Scott Harris is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @ScottHarrisMMA. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Lead image courtesy of fcfighter.com.