Sergio Pettis needed a miracle in the championship rounds at Bellator 272.
Fortunately, the reigning Bellator bantamweight champion stumbled upon exactly that.
Pettis pulled off one of the most dramatic comebacks of the year Friday night at Bellator 272 when he knocked RIZIN bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi out cold with a fourth-round spinning back fist to cement the first successful defense of his Bellator belt. The remarkable come-from-behind victory gave Pettis the most brutal highlight of his 27-fight career, and afterward even he was a little blown away by how the fight transpired.
“I’m beat up right now,” Pettis said at Friday’s Bellator 272 post-fight press conference. “The first one through four rounds, he was getting me. He was getting me frustrated. He got me with some interesting movements, some in-and-out plays, and I had to face a lot of adversity tonight to get that finish. And it was perfect. It was beautiful.
“I’ve only got, what, this is like my fourth or fifth knockout ever of my career? So this is 27 fights in and to see this stuff finally happening, it’s beautiful, man.”
Pettis (22-5) admitted that he struggled trying to decipher Horiguchi’s “awkward style” all night, and the final stats from the bout showed exactly what he meant. Horiguchi dominated Pettis in both the total strike count (73-19) and the takedown battle (4-0). He had Pettis swinging at air for long stretches in the bout, and seemingly was able to take the 28-year-old American down at will, racking up control time in each of the four rounds.
Pettis said the situation reminded him of the recent boxing match between Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter, which saw Crawford land a monster 10th-round knockout after being told between rounds by his coaches that he was down in the fight. Pettis explained that his own coaches gave him the same push heading into the fourth round, and that’s ultimately what prompted him to come out more aggressively and separate Horiguchi from his consciousness in devastating fashion with the fight-ending blow.
“Once that went down, I wanted to hit him with one more shot — and I realized, oh, he’s really out,” Pettis said. “But it was just my coach [Scott] Cushman too, he was telling me to jab, jab away, and every time he’s getting thrown at, he’s giving a reaction. And I think rounds one through four is what got him comfortable exiting without really defending himself. So I threw that kick, missed, and his exit allowed me to hit that spinning back fist.
“One thing that I lacked for awhile is the belief in myself, and I felt like if I had that trait still tonight, that I wouldn’t have gotten that job done in the fourth or fifth round. I was mentally kind of frustrated out there, but I never allowed it to destroy my positivity out there as well. I knew that I could do something great, and I had two rounds to accomplish that.”
The knockout itself led to a scary sight, as Horiguchi was out for a prolonged period of time and ultimately left the cage on a stretcher to be transported to the hospital.
Pettis admitted that he wasn’t exactly happy to see that side of his first career highlight-reel knockout, but he also knows that such results are simply part of the game.
“It’s not something I want to do,” Pettis said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody so bad that they’re unconscious like that or have damage later on in their life. So it definitely, it’s part of the job unfortunately, but it is what it is. At the end of the day, it’s kind of bogus to say, but it’s better him than me, so that’s how I’ve got to be when I’m out here. I’m very nice person and kind human being, but he would’ve done the same to me.”
“Honestly, it just makes me want to work harder,” Pettis added. “I got dominated the first four rounds. I got some stuff that I need to work on, and I definitely got an awesome knockout, but there’s some stuff that I need to for my career for longevity, and that’s what I’m here for. I’ve hopefully got another eight to 10 years in me.”
Pettis and Horiguchi will both now move into the eight-man field for Bellator’s upcoming bantamweight grand prix, where Pettis will be asked to potentially defend his title up to three more times in a tournament that holds a $1 million grand prize for its winner.
A rematch between the two is certainly a possibility depending on how the bracket shakes out, but Pettis made it clear from the outset that he’s not looking to choose his foes.
“I’m not here to pick anyone, man,” Pettis said. “I’m going to let them pick my opponent for me. I’m not the boss of that. They’ll tell me who I fight and I’ll never say no to a fight.”