It’s a relatively tame week in mixed martial arts but one of the most intriguing matchups of the year is quietly tucked away in the co-main event of Bellator 301. Sergio Pettis and Patchy Mix unify the bantamweight title on Friday in a fight between two of the best 135-pound fighters on the planet.
It’s amazing how one performance can force you to reimagine a fighter. Pettis was something of an underdog champion, narrowly defeating Kyoji Horiguchi with a late Hail Mary knockout in his first title defense. The Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix was his chance to change that perception. But an injury robbed Pettis of the opportunity, 18 months of his career and the $1 million prize. Upon his return, Pettis was greeted by a seemingly insurmountable challenge: welcoming former two-division champ Patricio Pitbull to the division. Pettis neutered Pitbull. The scrappy underdog became the alpha, nearly sweeping Bellator’s greatest fighter on the cards.
“I’ve always come into this sport not worried about the money,” Pettis told CBS Sports. “I was worried about my legacy and leaving my mark. The money will come. It was like a sign from the universe, ‘We took away the money from you but we’re going to give you a legacy fight.’ I went off and I showed the world that I’m one of the best to do it.”
Pettis watched from the sidelines as Mix accomplished much of what Pettis had intended. Mix morphed from under-appreciated fighter to absolute killer over the course of the tournament. Mix knocked out Raufeon Stots with a highlight reel knee 80 seconds into the Grand Prix finals to win the interim title and $1 million prize. Mix had a rightful claim to an undisputed title fight but was pushed aside for Pitbull’s move down in weight. Mix waited patiently, grateful for what he learned from Pettis vs. Pitbull.
“I think it’s made it scarier for me,” Mix told CBS Sports. “I think it’s better for me. A lot of people underestimate this guy and they don’t think he’s as good as he is.
“Fighting him coming off Patricio Pitbull is better because him coming off the way that fight happened — plus his injury — I might have underestimated him. Now I see how he took him out. He dominated him. I just think, for me, it motivated me even more. I overestimated this guy for this camp. I thought he was the best in the world and I treated it like that.”
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Mix’s loved ones will be present on Friday. His parent’s presence has become something of a good luck charm and a reminder of how Mix is in a position to change his family’s life.
“The time I had my mom front row at a fight was the time I knocked Stots’ ass out. It was the best feeling in the world knocking his ass out in front of my whole family,” Mix said. “My mom and dad put their hands out like, ‘F—. We don’t have to struggle anymore type shit.’
“I’ve been able to help my whole family out and change my life so I can train. We can train even more easily. No problems. It’s just tremendous. That opportunity comes with more with the world title. I want to take advantage of these opportunities. I want to pull everything out of MMA so it’s important to win.”
Pettis is no stranger to family in the fight game. Anthony Pettis was jumping off cage walls, kicking people in the face and winning world titles before Sergio Pettis ever debuted. “Showtime” thrived in the spotlight, casting a wide shadow that swallowed Sergio Pettis.
“Anthony was always a confident young man growing up. He always had that swag. With or without fighting, Anthony was ‘Showtime,'” Pettis said. “I feel like I had to really change myself. Growing up, I was a lot different. I was very shy, filled with anxiety and not too confident in myself. This sport has changed me for the better.
“I was like, ‘Damn I have a big shadow and shoes to fill.’ After a while, I realized, ‘No I don’t. I have my own journey to worry about.’ I have to worry about myself. Everyone has their own route to success and this is my route.”
Buzz or no buzz, Friday will determine which man is among the very elite in bantamweight MMA.
“I’m going to blow the whole roof off this bitch,” Mix said. “I slept my last two opponents. They were in the Patchy Show. Completely unconscious. This Friday night, I’m putting him in that loop… I’m going to be a dog on a bone and I’ll be going for it. I’ll be going for the finish from the moment the fight starts. So when they say, ‘Go!’ I’m going to f—ing run across that cage.”
“I feel like I’ve been the real deal for a while,” Pettis said. “Now I’m facing these guys where I can show it. I’ve been saying this quote a lot lately and I like it, ‘I’m five-foot-five so they’re going to overlook me, but when they fight me they look up at me.’ It’s going to be another one this weekend.”