It's been about three months since Fiserv Forum opened its doors and hosted a cavalcade of firsts, from its first concert to its first Bucks game. But the firsts are not over for the new arena, as Saturday, Dec. 15 will gift fight fans in Milwaukee with a Christmas card of a different kind: the building's first UFC fight – and the city's first UFC event since 2013.
The fight night is headlined by the lightweight rematch between no. 5-ranked Kevin Lee and no. 9-ranked Al Iaquinta, airing live on Fox. But for local fans, the true spotlight of the bout is on the Cream City flavor found throughout the fight card, with Milwaukee-based fighters like Erik Koch and middleweight Gerald Meerschaert taking to the octagon. Joining them on the card is Brew City's own Sergio Pettis, a Pius XI High School grad, the brother of former UFC lightweight champ Anthony and an impressive fighter in his own right, punching and kicking his way to a no. 2 ranking in the UFC's flyweight division this year.
However, his Saturday night fight will be in somewhat new territory for Pettis, returning to the bantamweight category to battle with no. 11 ranked Rob Font.
Before the big Brew City fight, we chatted with Sergio Pettis for another installment of Milwaukee Talks, learning about his origins in the fight game, his move back to bantamweight and what it means fighting in a Fiserv Forum first.
OnMilwaukee: How did you get interested and involved in MMA?
Sergio Pettis: Me and my brother started off doing taekwondo at a young age, so we just kind of grew up in the martial arts scenery. We were competing for a while, and my brother Anthony made the first transition to kickboxing and MMA. At the time, I was about 13 or 14, at that age where I was over competing in taekwondo. I’d been doing it for a while, and watching (Anthony) compete gave me a lot of interest and made me want to do the sport. So I followed in his footsteps, and we took it to this level now.
What did your mom think about you going into fighting as a career?
(Laughs) My mom still doesn’t really like it. She’s still waiting for me to go to college and get a real job. (laughs) But she’s very supportive. And she knows she obviously started us off in taekwondo so it’s somewhat her fault. (laughs) But like I said, she knows I’m happy and all, but she thinks I can do more – something that doesn’t involve me getting punched or elbowed or kicked in the face.
If you weren’t a UFC fighter, what would you want to do? What would be your next passion?
You know what, I’m not exactly sure. I’ve always thought I would take the college route and do something in the medical field, for some reason. I like helping people, so something in the medical field is something I definitely would’ve went for. My mom is in the medical field, and my oldest brother was kind of going the same route.
The fight game just changed me, man. I started professionally fighting when I was 18 years old. And I was just kind of going through the motions of a career, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and fighting just taught me a different way of life, taught me more about myself. It’s an addicting sport. Very addicting.
So you’d go from hitting people in the octagon to healing people outside of it.
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m not sure exactly what I would’ve done, but the route took me somewhere else.
What’s it like living in a fighting family, having a brother who is also in the sport? Does he watch the tape with you and help you train, or is it kind of competitive and hands-off?
Growing up with brothers who do martial arts is definitely different. We’d always somehow end up in some tussles – jiu-jitsu tussles and wrestling and boxing. We never really serious, but we’d play around – and obviously mom didn’t like that. They definitely taught me a lot, though. My brother Ray taught me a lot about life. My brother Anthony obviously taught me a lot about the fight game with him going through his career – taught me so much about what to look out for and what to go for. Definitely blessed to have him around.
How is Milwaukee as a UFC/MMA hive – both for fans and for fighters?
Oh man, a lot of people don’t know but there’s a lot of great gyms in Milwaukee. Duke Roufus’ gym is probably known globally; it was voted the best gym in the world two years ago. A lot of people don’t know, but it’s a gem. Milwaukee is definitely a spot where fighters can progress in MMA and boxing. I think there’s a lot of unseen talent here that now is being seen, now that the UFC is getting bigger and the sport is getting bigger and kids are wanting to be fighters at a young age and know that they can make a career out of it. It’s definitely a good place to start.
There was obviously a lot of talk about your recent move back to bantamweight. Why that move and why now?
There’s some stuff going on with the UFC about the flyweight division. I’m not really sure of the details on it, but I obviously don’t want to fight outside the UFC. So I’m just making the move just in case. I’ve had great success at 135. And I’m getting older now, too. I’m 25 years old, so my body is growing sideways, man. I’m getting thicker and these weight cuts are getting a little bit tougher on me. So I think it was the right move for the time in my life – and obviously the timing with the UFC and what’s going on in the UFC.
How does it feel to be a part of the upcoming Fiserv Forum fight? Obviously, it’s not the first UFC fight in Milwaukee, but it is the first in this new building.
I’m excited to be a part of it. I went to the Fiserv Forum for the first time (on Nov. 14), and the arena is gorgeous. The energy there is so different, so I can imagine when the fights are brought there, it’s going to be a great night. It’s gonna be a good night to get out there and get the job done.
Can you actually tell the difference between venues, or is it all the same when you’re inside the octagon?
You can tell the differences sometimes, but when you’re in there, you’re really just focused on getting the job done. You still feel the crowd, you still feel the energy. Every time there’s a great crowd, there’s great energy and a great vibe to the place. I can just imagine what it’s going to be like in Milwaukee, in my home town, and having the crowd on my side.
I don’t want you to give away anything, but what is your strategy going into this fight?
I don’t really have much of a strategy going into this fight. I feel like I’m good everywhere: jiu-jitsu, wrestling, kickboxing. I know Rob Font, the guy I’m fighting, is going to bring the fight to me, and I think it’s going to be a stand-up fight most of the fight. He’s going to try to box me up a bit – he’s a good boxer – and I’m going to be out there doing the same thing, box him up and kick-box him up. I think there’s gonna be fireworks, man. The crowd is going to be very pleased.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.