MEXICO CITY – Sergio Pettis is satisfied with a Mexico City headliner against a fellow young contender, but he’s still irked about his previously scheduled fight with Henry Cejudo.
Pettis (15-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC), who’s No. 8 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA flyweight rankings, takes on No. 9-ranked Brandon Moreno (14-3 MMA, 3-0 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 114 headliner, which airs on FS1 from Mexico City Arena in Mexico.
However, before his first UFC headlining spot, 23-year-old Pettis was slated to fight No. 3-ranked Cejudo (10-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) at UFC 211, but the May bout was canceled three days before fight night due to the Olympic gold medalist’s hand injury.
“Two days before the weigh-ins – about four pounds away from making weight – I finish my last workout, and I get the call from my manager that Cejudo pulled out,” Pettis told MMAjunkie. “So, it was definitely a frustrating moment. I was ready to fight. (He’s) a big name, No. 3 in the division, and it would’ve shot me up (the rankings).”
As someone who embraces his Mexican heritage, Pettis said the subsequent opportunity to headline UFC Fight Night 114 in Mexico City is a “blessing in disguise.” Still, it’s hard to completely forgot about the opportunity he lost at UFC 211.
“Yeah, I was a little angry (Cejudo) showed up to the pressers and shook my hand, and a couple hours later he tells me he can’t fight,” Pettis said. “He had an injury he knew about a couple weeks before.
“He actually called me to apologize, so that’s cool of him to do. But it sucks. But if you know you have an injury, at least let the guy know so you can get a replacement.”
Still, he’s got another solid opportunity to move up the ranks and solidify his contender status when he fights Moreno, a fan favorite who’s won 11 straight fights, including three in the UFC (two of which earn “Performance of the Night” honors).
“Brandon’s making his way up, and I’m making my way up,” Pettis said. “And one thing that interests me about this fight is that he’s a young fighter. He’s 23 years old, and me – I’m the same age, 23 years old. He’s hungry. I’m hungry. That’ll make me rise to the occasion. I’m excited to test his game.”
When Pettis joined the UFC in 2013, he was a 20-year-old who was perhaps best known as the younger brother of former UFC champ Anthony Pettis. However, the younger Pettis has carved out his own niche in the sport, he’s entered the top 10 at 125 pounds, and he’s now riding an impressive 5-1 run into his first UFC headliner.
After turning pro as an 18-year-old in 2011, Pettis got a trial by fire with his pro-MMA career. But he feels like he’s now settling in just fine.
“My mentality is so different,” he said. “I came into the UFC a little kid. I felt small, man. I felt like a little kid – Anthony’s little brother. I had to play up the hype. But now I feel like I’ve broke out of it. I’m making my way to becoming myself, becoming Sergio Pettis. And I’m slowly but surely doing that.”
And if all goes well, he’ll be the victor of a contender-vs.-contender fight. Moreno will surely be the crowd favorite, though Pettis says he doesn’t mind. Regardless, with an impressive win, either fighter could be next up for long-reigning and long-dominant flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (26-2-1 MMA, 14-1-1 UFC), who meets Ray Borg (11-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) at UFC 215 on Sept. 9. There, “Mighty Mouse” looks for a UFC-record 11th straight title defense. After that, the list of contenders is thin.
“The division needs a new face,” Pettis said. “I feel like I’m going to be the next one to do it.”
For more on UFC Fight Night 114, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.