Sergio Pettis kicks Matt Hobar

Sergio Pettis is the latest in the growing list of fighters choosing not to re-sign with the UFC.

First reported by ESPN, the 26-year-old has reportedly reached a multi-fight deal with Bellator, though no debut is set. Pettis went 9-5 in the octagon with notable wins against Joseph Benavidez, Brandon Moreno, and John Moraga. He made his debut with the company in 2013 as an undefeated 20-year-old. Sergio shed the label of “Anthony Pettis’ little brother” and became known as one of the premier strikers in the lighter weight classes and a contender at both flyweight and bantamweight.

The latter is expected to be the division that Pettis will call home in the promotion. Bellator has yet to create a flyweight division, but the addition of Pettis could spark its creation. Despite this, Pettis’ last two fights came at bantamweight, so he is no stranger to the weight. The division boasts a litany of top-level contenders, all under the reign of champion Kyoji Horiguchi.

It’s time to play matchmaker and pinpoint three ideal opponents for Sergio Pett’s Bellator debut.

Ricky Bandejas

Bandejas’ Bellator tenure has largely been trial by fire, so why not take on Pettis in his debut?

The 27-year-old New Jersey native debuted by knocking out SBG product James Gallagher who many saw as the potential next face of the company. Bandejas appeared on the radar of many fans that night but dropped back-to-back fights against recent featherweight title challenger Juan Archuleta, and uber-prospect Patrick Mix.

Bandejas wrestled in high school and primarily focused on that discipline in his early MMA career. Still, it has been his striking that has elevated him to bantamweight contender, most recently knocking out Ahmet Kayretli to return to the win column. The 5’10” Bandejas will have a four-inch height advantage over Pettis and could look to use his size advantage and return to his wrestling roots to out-muscle the smaller Pettis, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The likely outcome would be a stand-up fight between two men with different, yet successful striking styles. Bandejas looks more comfortable with his hands from fight to fight. He utilizes pressure to stalk his opponent and throws wild jumping and spinning kicks to disrupt the rhythm of his opponent, and would likely have the power advantage over his foe. In contrast, Pettis has spent nearly his entire life, honing his striking craft. The Bellator debutant will have a comfortable advantage when it comes to the speed and accuracy of his attacks. Still, he will need to utilize those advantages of the back foot against the bigger, longer, pressure-based Bandejas.

Bellator would have a rock-solid main card match-up between to fighters still trending towards the prime of their careers if they choose to match-up Pettis and Bandejas.

Eduardo Dantas

If I were the Bellator matchmaker, this is the fight I would put together.

The former Bellator Bantamweight Champion has dropped three of his last four fights but remains a staple at the top of the division. A fight with Dantas would be a brilliant opportunity for the next chapter of Pettis’ career. A win over a former champion would bolster the resume of the young fighter.

It won’t be an easy task.

The 30-year-old Brazilian has a traditional Muay Thai approach on the feet, a staple of his Nova União training. He utilizes heavy kicks evenly distributed to the legs, body, and head, which could work wonders at slowing down the faster Pettis. Dantas’ ground game may be the “x” factor in this potential bout. “DuDu” has leaned more towards his Muay Thai, but his grappling background is always an option. His takedown entries are above average for a fighter with no traditional wrestling background, and he is more than capable of capitalizing on any mistake on the mat. He most recently utilized it to victory against Toby Misech when Misech was starting to put together offense on the feet. Pettis’ shortcomings in the UFC were rooted in grappling deficiencies, and it will be interesting to see if the larger Dantas decides to make the faster Pettis grapple.

Pettis’ path to victory is obviously on the feet. He will need to capitalize on Dantas’ tendency to go through periods of inactivity. The Mexican-American is brilliant at ending combinations with a lightning-fast kick. This could work wonders against someone like “DuDu” who sometimes tends to leave his hands low, especially on the back foot.

Similar to the Bandejas fight, a contender will emerge from this bout with Pettis having the chance to have one of the more impressive debuts from an ex-UFC fighter.

Juan Archuleta

Stylistically this is the toughest matchup of the three and potentially one of the toughest matchups in the division as a whole. The “Spaniard” Juan Archuleta is an absolute bulldozer who is one of the top contenders in both the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. The 32-year-old recently lost a title fight against featherweight king Patricio Freire but has made it clear he is down to fight anyone in either weight class. I would be more than happy if this fight headlined a future Bellator event in late 2019 or early 2020.

Archuleta posses all the qualities that have given Pettis trouble in his career thus far. He is an unbelievably strong fighter with a powerful takedown game. He is unlike either Dantas or Bandejas. “The Spaniard” will circle the black of the cage and attack in bursts. Archuleta’s attacks and varied, but all come with full power. The California native often times ends these flurries with a powerful double-leg takedown. His opponents are on the backfoot and have little chance at defending the shot from the powerful Archuleta.

Pettis, the natural flyweight, has struggled with wrestlers and may not have ever faced someone as physically strong as Archuletta; however, he is not without paths to victory. When Archuletta bullrushes his opponents, many of the strikes are wide, looping hooks. A precise striker like Pettis will have openings to land a devastating counter. Even though he’s only suffered two career defeats, he has taken his share of strikes. Patricio “Pitbull” rocked him several times, and Eduardo Dantas was able to land significant shots. “The Spaniard” has never been knocked out in his career, but a precise, well-timed shot from Pettis could change that, or at the very least, alter the fight in his favor.

A win over “The Spaniard” may land Pettis with a shot at Kyoji Horiguchi.

Fighters like Pettis, Gegard Mousasi, Demetrious Johnson, etc., are showing their peers that they have several valid options for their career. That will only help the sport as a whole in the long run.

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