Long before Sergio Pettis found out he would face Patricio Pitbull, he was already battling his own personal demons.
Just eighteen months ago, Pettis secured the most significant victory of his career when he overcame a slow start to surprise Kyoji Horiguchi with a spinning backfist, earning a dramatic finish and successfully defending his Bellator bantamweight title. His plan was to continue his reign by taking on a line of formidable challengers in the Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix. However, a knee injury forced him out of the tournament and sidelined him until June of this year.
Pettis made a truly inspiring comeback at Bellator 297, where he defeated Patricio Pitbull by unanimous decision, successfully defending his title once again and preventing Pitbull from achieving three-division champion status. After the fight, he utilized his post-match speech to deliver a heartfelt message of support for individuals battling mental health issues.
Pettis revealed that he had already made up his mind about delivering the speech while he was in the midst of the fight. “Once I stepped into the ring, I felt like I belonged there,” Pettis explained on The MMA Hour. “There were moments when I had to remind myself to focus on the fight, but honestly, throughout the rounds, all I could think about was the post-fight speech. I wanted to convey this message to everyone, and with each passing round, I was getting closer to sharing my thoughts. It’s truly a unique and intense experience to be fighting.”
While Pettis hasn’t sought professional help for his own mental health struggles, he attributes his ability to cope with anxiety, which he has dealt with since a young age, to the support of his family, fiancée, and dog. Now 29 years old, Pettis made his professional MMA debut at the age of 18 and has essentially grown up in the public eye.
That’s why it was crucial for him to utilize his platform to spread positivity. “I felt like that was my ‘why,’ my reason to win that fight,” Pettis stated. “I wanted to deliver my message and discuss the challenges I’ve faced in recent years and throughout my life, including social anxiety, anxiety itself, and even depression. Last year, I experienced significant bouts of depression that I didn’t even realize were possible. I just wanted to share this message with everyone else going through similar struggles, letting them know that it’s okay to feel these emotions and have these thoughts. They need to keep moving forward, trusting themselves, believing in their own timing.”
The time off and the uncertainty surrounding his performance after recovering from a severe knee injury took a toll on Pettis’ mental well-being. He wouldn’t be defending his title after defeating Horiguchi, participating in the tournament with a $1 million prize, or engaging in any MMA-related activities for an unknown period.
It was undoubtedly a new and challenging experience for Pettis. “I was definitely in a state of depression,” he admitted. “It happened about three and a half weeks before my scheduled fight against Raufeon [Stots]. I tore my ACL and missed the opportunity to compete for a million dollars and have three fights last year. Instead, I was forced to sit on the sidelines, recover, and regain my health. It was definitely a different and humbling time for me.”
Reflecting on it all now, Pettis describes the impact of his hiatus as “rejuvenating” and attributes his ability to overcome it to his support system. He has discovered a new way to find balance as he prepares for his next title defense against Patchy Mix, the winner of the grand prix tournament and interim champion.
“It’s tough,” Pettis acknowledged. “Anyone who has experienced an ACL injury or any injury that takes them away from what they love understands the struggle. I learned a lot about myself during that time without my sport. My sport keeps me calm, motivated, and hungry. Without it, I felt lost for a while. I questioned my identity and what I could contribute. However, it was a fascinating journey. It motivated me to develop the mentality I have now—peaceful, yet ready for battle.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Mental health struggles
Q: How did Sergio Pettis overcome his mental health struggles?
A: Sergio Pettis credits his support system, including his family, fiancée, and dog, for helping him deal with anxiety that has plagued him since he was young. He hasn’t sought professional help but believes in the power of sharing his message and supporting others who may be going through similar challenges.
Q: What message did Sergio Pettis deliver during his post-fight speech?
A: Sergio Pettis used his post-fight speech to deliver a message of support for those struggling with mental health. He wanted to let them know that it’s okay to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and social anxiety. He emphasized the importance of pushing forward, trusting oneself, and believing in their own timing.
Q: How did Sergio Pettis feel during his time off due to a knee injury?
A: Sergio Pettis felt depressed during his time off due to a knee injury. He had to sit on the sidelines and watch others succeed while he recovered. It was a humbling experience for him, as he was used to being active and training regularly.
Q: How did Sergio Pettis describe the impact of his hiatus on his mental well-being?
A: Sergio Pettis described his hiatus as “rejuvenating.” He credits his support system for helping him through the challenging period. He found a new sense of balance and peace during that time, even as he prepared for his next title defense.
Q: What is Sergio Pettis’ mindset as he prepares for his next title defense?
A: Sergio Pettis describes his current mindset as being at peace but ready for battle. He acknowledges the challenges he has faced, both in his personal life and as an athlete, and is determined to maintain his resilience and determination as he faces his next opponent.