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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."