Pettis’ teammate and opponent eye UFC

In early October the fighters from UFC on Fox: Pettis vs.
Thomson headed to Sacramento for a press conference to help kick
off the event taking place in December featuring a lightweight
title bout leading the card.

The typical pre-fight questions were bantered about by the media
and the fighters, but at one point an interesting inquiry came to
the competitors on the dais about who they believed would be the
next big thing coming out of their gym or from their pool of
training partners to jump to the UFC?

Each fighter gave a couple of examples and then the microphone
came to UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. He mentioned his
brother Sergio Pettis, who will be making his UFC debut in
November, but then he turned his attention to a fighter who he’s
given a place to live and train for the biggest part of the last
year.

“Mike ‘Biggie’ Rhodes is actually a teammate I took under my
wing, he’s a very good fighter. 170-pounder, he’ll be in the UFC
soon,” Pettis said.

Rhodes is a young 5-1 fighter who trains out of Pettis’ home gym
in Milwaukee under the tutelage of head coach Duke Roufus while
currently competes in the RFA (Resurrection Fighting Alliance)
— a regional promotion that routinely sends fighters packing
to the UFC. As a matter of fact the RFA is the promotion where
Sergio Pettis, Anthony’s 20-year old brother, last fought before
getting the call up to the big leagues.

At the time Pettis mentioned his name during the UFC press
conference, Rhodes had no clue he was about to land on the radar of
every MMA fan and reporter, but it didn’t take long for the news to
reach his ears.

“I didn’t see it right away, but a bunch of people started
hitting me up right away on Twitter like ‘Anthony just gave you a
shout out, you must be doing something right!’ and so I went back
and looked at it and it was an emotional moment for me because I
moved up here to Milwaukee with no friends, no family, I just kind
of made the leap of faith,” Rhodes told FOX Sports.

“Once I got here I just started putting in the time and the work
and people started to notice, and Anthony was one of those guys. He
tells me all the time I have some of the greatest potential he’s
seen as a fighter and I don’t want him to feel like I’m taking that
for granted. That’s why I work hard everyday.”

It wasn’t long ago that Pettis was a young, up and coming
fighter trying to make his way in the world via the WEC and now
just over four years later he stands atop the rankings as the best
155-pound fighter on the planet.

So when Pettis took the time to mention Rhodes by name, it meant
something special to the welterweight prospect, who looks up to him
like a big brother. He’s happy and honored to be called Pettis’
prodigy, and Rhodes will do anything in his power to make sure he
always lives up to his teammate’s expectations.

“He’s really somebody I try to impress and make sure I’m molding
myself after,” Rhodes said about Pettis. “He invited me into his
home, he’s been letting me live with him for about the last nine
months and it’s just made a huge difference just being able to
mimic his training style, his personal life, and everything that
comes with mixed martial arts and the fame of it. For him to say
I’m next, it puts pressure on me but without pressure you can’t
have diamonds.”

Pettis’ name dropping Rhodes certainly amps up the intensity of
his upcoming fight in the RFA against fellow prospect Alan Jouban.
With a 7-1 record and six finishes to his credit, Jouban is happy
that the UFC champion mentioned Rhodes while showering him with
admiration.

Jouban was already eyeing a move to the UFC in the near future,
but if he beats the fighter Pettis has dubbed ‘the next big thing’
then it makes his path a much smoother ride.

“I think Mike is kind of riding of waves of his counterparts,”
Jouban said about Rhodes. “He trains at a great gym. I’m a fan of
Duke Roufus, I’m a fan of Anthony Pettis, I like their style. With
that said, I feel like Mike ‘Biggie’ Rhodes, not to say he’s not as
good of a fighter, but he’s throwing his name in the mix with all
these big fighters and coming from this camp, but I feel like I’m
the better fighter and I’ve done a little bit more and he’s talked
his way in into it. I’m going in there and I want to put a stop to
him.”

The RFA in many ways has become the triple-A organization
feeding fighters to the UFC in recent months. Sergio Pettis was the
latest to go along with fighters such as Brandon Thatch and James
Krause, who also made the jump to the UFC from RFA.

Jouban dreams about the day he receives that call, but to get
there he wants to put a stamp on a victory over Pettis’ prized
pupil. Knocking Rhodes out would get the job done in Jouban’s
eyes.

“I mean I obviously realize that is a potential of happening,
but I don’t look at it that way. I’m one of those guys, the UFC is
my goal. I don’t want to be in Bellator, I don’t want to be
in the World Series of Fighting, I want to be in the UFC,” Jouban
said. “That’s why I’m in this organization. I want to win this
fight, I want to win this belt, I want to be the champion of the
RFA and if the UFC decides that I’ve done enough and they want me,
then I want to be in the UFC.

“I want to come in here and knock this guy out. I want to be a
decisive and I want the UFC to say ‘we really want this kid’.
That’s kind of my take on it.”

Both fighters are aware that their matchup on Friday could mean
the difference between receiving a call from UFC matchmaker Joe
Silva or sitting back on the sidelines watching the UFC on
television at home instead of competing in the Octagon. Rhodes
promises he isn’t letting the moment get to him, but he also can’t
ignore what a win will do for his career.

Most of all, Rhodes wants to make his teammates proud and live
up to the words bestowed upon him by Pettis a few weeks ago.

“It just makes me want to perform at the highest level because I
see what my teammates are capable of, and they see the daily grind
that we go through together,” Rhodes said. “To know that I compete
and train with these guys on a daily basis and lets me know where
I’m at in my career, and one big performance on a platform like the
RFA has given me can get me to that level and it can also change my
life like it will Sergio’s in the near future.”