It started with a left kick to the body. Then another. And another.
Over and over again for more than a round and a half on August 23, 2014, Peter Petties battered Jeff Melvin with brutal kicks. And then it happened.
The numerous blows to the body made Melvin sick, and with about two minutes remaining in the second of three rounds, the bout was over.
"Usually we call it a poker face, like we act like it didn't hurt," he said, "but this guy made a weird face and I didn't know what was going on. But once I started seeing things gush out of his mouth that's when I ran out of the way."
Petties won the amateur fight via technical knockout and claimed the featherweight title at OO Fights 32 in Washington D.C. that night. But it did so much more for a now 25-year-old nicknamed "The Joker," whose mixed martial arts journey has been on a steady rise for the past several years.
"That experience, I would say, made national headlines," Petties said. "... It got my name out there."
More headlines are expected from Petties on Saturday night, when he faces Rodney Jordan of Charlotte, N.C. in a featherweight bout at Shogun Fights XV at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.
But his MMA voyage dates back to 2010, when a friend brought him to a restaurant in his hometown of Columbia to watch UFC 100 – a card that featured legends Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre successfully winning their respective title fights.
An accomplished high school wrestler who won more than 100 matches and placed third at the state tournament his senior season in 2009 at Oakland Mills High School, Petties was hooked. That's when he found Crazy 88 Martial Arts, a gym in Elkridge that teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and mixed martial arts.
"First day I came in [to Crazy 88], it was a humbling experience," Petties said. "When you come in as a wrestler, you think you know everything until you're on the mats with someone who really knows jiu-jitsu. Guys who were 125 pounders folding me up like a pretzel and holding me in a guillotine, I was like, 'I've got to learn this.'"
Longtime MMA trainer Lloyd Irvin liked what he saw from the start. He loved Petties' combination of size and length, his wrestling background, and most of all his fearlessness. Irvin has been training Petties ever since, and all of Petties' fights have been with Team Lloyd Irvin.
"The first time I saw him train, I was looking at his size (170 pounds) and the weight he was fighting at (145 pounds), having a wrestling background, being a lefty, having flamboyant moves, not being afraid to do big moves – it was something I knew for a fact would be appealing to the sport," said Irvin, who has trained multiple UFC fighters, including notables like Brandon Vera. "I remember him sparring with Mike Easton and he was inexperienced, but at the same time Mike was in the UFC. He was going for it, like it didn't matter. I knew he had what it takes."
Petties' first-ever MMA fight as an amateur was in Winchester, Va. in 2010. Petties calls it the "wild, wild west" because Virginia is one of a few states where amateurs can fight with pro rules – no shin guards or head protection.
"It's an all out brawl," he said. "I look back now and I'm like, man, that was crazy."
Petties, who graduated from Morgan State University in 2013, slowly worked his way through several lower level organizations and eventually turned pro after amassing an 8-1 record as an amateur. But his big break came after that series of kicks at the Washington D.C. Convention Center.
Bryan Hamper and Brian Butler of SuckerPunch Entertainment, a mixed martial arts management company, manage 37 UFC fighters and a "handful" of up and comers, including Petties. Hamper said they signed him after Irvin showed him video what Petties did that night in D.C., and they have managed all four of his professional fights over the last two years.
"He's got the look and the personality. He's a marketable kid. He's extremely dynamic when he's fighting," said Hamper, who is also the head wrestling coach at South Carroll High School. "We're excited about his future."
Petties, who describes his fighting style as "Wu-Tang Shaolin," said his goals are to be a UFC champion one day.
"At this point I do want to be a UFC champ. I've got a lot of eyes on me off of previous fights. I also have a lot of experience," he said. "I have the coaching staff to take me to the UFC. I have a really good manager ... It's just a matter of at this point staying busy."
One of the biggest issues Petties has had, however, is that he has only fought four times since turning pro in 2014 – a small number for even the top fighters in the UFC. He said he has had nine or 10 fights scratched in the last two years because opponents have dropped out for one reason or another, but he has a 3-1 record as a professional with wins via unanimous decision, technical knock out and knock out.
Hamper also believes Petties is fit for the UFC sooner rather than later.
"When he fights, he's extremely dynamic. He's throwing kicks and punches from wild angles, he's kind of a showman out there," said Hamper, who compared Petties to former UFC champion Jon Jones because of his range and unique fighting style. "He's not throwing basic combinations and trying to take people down – he's exciting every time he fights. I think that's why everybody is drawn to him – he's never been in a boring fight and he does stuff you just don't see very often. Not only is he athletic and a great fighter, he puts on a show and he wins.
"He's a guy who in maybe four fights could be in the UFC. I think that's the kind of trajectory that we're going right now and he's already proved he can beat good guys and compete at a high level. It's just a matter of him putting a couple of wins together."
Though Petties lost his most recent fight via a split decision in April – one he says changed his mindset for the better – he won't have to wait any longer for his next bout.
Expectations are high, and Irvin said he expects a victory Saturday night.
"My prediction is a beautiful, crazy, wild finish. He's a finisher; he's a knockout artist. He can do it on the ground, he can do it standing up," he said. "But I expect a strong finish. The last fight he lost, he lost a decision that didn't go his way. It left a very sour taste in his mouth, so he needs to come out and make a statement."
Petties wasn't shy about his prediction, either. He fully expects to win and take the next step in his development, but he also plans to put on a show just 20 miles from home.
"This next fight I'm getting my hand raised no matter what it takes," he said. "Whether it's knock out, submission – it's not going to a decision this time, I can guarantee you that. I'm not playing in there this time."