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Sergio Pettis shines under spotlight — but questions on ceiling remain

UFC fighter Sergio Pettis acknowledges the fans during the weigh in for UFC 192, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 in Houston. (AP Photo/Juan DeLeon)
(AP Photo/Juan DeLeon)

Destined in the eyes of many to reach the mountain at some point in his professional fighting career, Sergio Pettis is now on the doorstep of UFC gold.

The talented flyweight contender defeated rising talent Brandon Moreno in the main event of UFC Fight Night 114 Saturday, outclassing the Mexican crowd’s favorite en route to a one-sided unanimous decision at the Mexico City Arena in the nation’s capital.

The latest bump in the road for Pettis appeared to be written in the stars early on in this contest, as an early round takedown allowed Moreno to dominate the first five minutes of the fight with grappling control. But Pettis survived, defending all of “The Assassin Baby’s” choke attempts to live to see the second round.

That’s when Pettis, slowly chipping away at the seemingly permanent comparisons to brother and former UFC lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, allowed his skills to truly shine. The more technical striker of the two, Sergio Pettis rarely ceded another takedown in the remaining five rounds, forcing Moreno to compete like a fish out of water.

The 23-year-old flyweight has now won four consecutive bouts inside the Octagon, holding a 7-2 record as a member of the UFC. He’s virtually the only fighter at 125 pounds who can make a convincing argument for the next shot at the belt.

“I see a lot more wins coming,” Pettis said in an interview with the UFC after the fight. “I’m not sure if I get a title shot; if I do, I’m going to be ready for that, but I’ve gotta go back to the drawing boards, get healthy and figure out how to finish these fights. I’m sick of going to the decision, and I know I’m better than that. That’s my next goal.”

Based on accomplishments alone, Pettis is ready to fight for the title. Do note that the previous sentence does not in any way indicate whether or not Pettis is ready to challenge Demetrious Johnson, the champion at 125 pounds. Being deserving of an opportunity to wrap his waist in UFC gold does not in any way correlate with the idea that he’s actually capable of defeating arguably the greatest fighter of all time, and undoubtedly the best 125-pound fighter the world has ever seen.

Pettis may soon join a long list of fighters who’ve shared in that troubling narrative. Ray Borg, who challenges Johnson for the flyweight title at UFC 215 in September, is currently a +600 underdog to Johnson’s -1000 favorite. That’s more or less where a majority of Johnson’s opponents have averaged during his unblemished tenure as champion, none of whom have been able to defy the betting odds by coming even close to unseating “Mighty Mouse” from his throne.

Johnson is the flyweight champion, and that appears to be the cemented case so long as he chooses to remain a part of the flyweight division. Pettis, who’s shown to be more consistent than his elder brother over the years, may not have much of a say in the matter. “Mighty Mouse” is a master at dominating the areas in which his opponents lack skill, while Pettis has, as of yet, really only dominated contests when given the opportunity to showcase his technical assets as a striker.

The latter is, of course, only 23 years old. He still has about a decade left in this game if he chooses to continue his career that long. Johnson will soon turn 31, and while it doesn’t seem as if he has any desire to hang up his gloves just yet, “Mighty Mouse” will be forced to make some legacy-defining decisions sooner rather than later. A win over Borg will net him the UFC’s all-time record for consecutive title defenses of 11 straight, a metric he’s admittedly been gunning for since winning the belt half a decade ago. What comes next, whether it be 10 more title defenses or a trip back up to the bantamweight division, is entirely up to him.

Those hoping to see more from the dominant champion will undoubtedly voice their opinions in favor of the latter choice as they have been for years now. And while the proud fighters of the flyweight division would prefer to become the champion by actually beating the champion, they’d probably be pretty OK with the idea of Johnson leaving the division for deeper waters, too.

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