The younger brother of a former UFC champion has begun carving out his own name in Bellator MMA.
In Bellator's return for the first time in five months, Sergio Pettis defeated Ricky Bandejas via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in the bantamweight main event of Bellator 242 on Friday night.
Bellator, the second-most prominent MMA promotion in the U.S. after the UFC, had not held an event since Feb. 22 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pettis' older brother Anthony was the UFC lightweight champion in 2013 and 2014.
This card took place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, overseen by the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation. COVID-19 protocols were implemented, including multiple coronavirus tests and the keeping of fighters, corners and staff within a kind of bubble at the Mohegan Sun resort and casino.
The original Bellator 242 main event was supposed to be a bout for the bantamweight title between Juan Archuleta and Patrick Mix, but Archuleta withdrew. The expectation is that bout will be rebooked for the belt.
On Friday, Pettis surely put himself in that No. 1 contender conversation. He had an economical performance against Bandejas, outstriking the taller man and piling on the calf kicks through the first two rounds. At one point, Bandejas seemed to lose his footing due to the damage caused by those repeated kicks to the lower part of his left leg.
In the third round, both men opened up. Pettis was not content to cruise to a decision and put forth several flashy techniques, clearly looking for a knockout. Pettis threw spinning kicks, and Bandejas came back with some of his own, including a wheel kick to the head that was just barely blocked by Pettis. Pettis threw another spinning kick with seconds remaining that narrowly missed as well.
Pettis (20-5) has won three straight, including his first two in Bellator. The Milwaukee native left the UFC as a free agent last year with a 9-5 record in the organization, going back and forth between flyweight and bantamweight. Pettis, still just 26 years old, owns a victory over Joseph Benavidez, who just fought for the UFC flyweight title last weekend in Abu Dhabi.
Bandejas (13-4) had a two-fight winning streak snapped. The New Jersey native propelled himself up the Bellator bantamweight ladder in 2018 when he stunningly knocked out Conor McGregor protégé James Gallagher. Bandejas, 28, trains out of the vaunted American Top Team in Florida.
Also on the Bellator 242 card, blue-chipper Aaron Pico won his second straight bout via finish. Pico (6-3) submitted Solo Hatley Jr. with a rear-naked choke at 2:09 of the first round in the main card opener.
Pico, 23, debuted as a pro with Bellator in 2017 as the most decorated prospect in MMA history following Golden Gloves titles in boxing and a near berth in the Olympics for wrestling. Prior to this current streak, though, he had lost two straight via knockout.
Pico, a California native, has begun finding success since changing training camps to Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the home of UFC stars such as Jon Jones and Holly Holm. Rather than brawling and looking for quick knockouts like he did in previous fights, Pico went to his wrestling early, took Hatley down, landed damaging ground-and-pound and finished with a choke. Pico has finished all six of his pro victories, but this was the first one by submission.