A whirlwind of events saw UFC Lightweight Anthony Pettis (16-2) go from vying to clash with UFC Featherweight Champion José Aldo at UFC 163 for the belt, to an injury that forced him out of the August 3rd bout in Brazil.
Then news came that TJ Grant, who was initially set to challenge Benson Henderson (19-2) for the UFC Lightweight strap, had suffered a concussion and didn’t think he’d be ready in time to fight for the title on August 31 at UFC 164. Grant withdrew from the contest leaving Henderson without an opponent.
As it turns out, Pettis’ LCL injury has already healed up. He says he feels fully recovered and is able to go all out in training with his knee.
When the call came for Pettis to step up and fight Henderson for the title in his own backyard of Milwaukee, WI, there was no way the top contender of the lightweight division could turn down the opportunity. Now, “Showtime” is now on tap to square off against Benson in a championship fight for the second time in their MMA careers.
“The last couple months have been crazy,” Pettis told MMA Fight Corner. “You know, from going to fighting in Brazil at 145, to the knee injury putting me sidelined and I didn’t know what was going to happen, and Josh Thomson calling me out. I didn’t know really what was going to happen after that knee injury. Then I get the opportunity to fight in my hometown for a title. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. I think everything happens for a reason and I’ve just got to be ready for my time.”
The rematch set for UFC 164 is almost three years in the making. At the last WEC event to ever be held, WEC 53 in December 2010, Henderson and Pettis met in the main event for the lightweight title. After successfully defending the WEC title once against Donald Cerrone, Henderson met a young and hungry Pettis.
In the fifth round of action the Duke Roufus trained fighter, whose experience and skills derive from his Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing background, delivered the kick heard around the world. Like something out of the movie The Matrix, Pettis bounded off of the cage with his right leg, which then connected with Benson and sent him to the canvas. Though Pettis wasn’t able to finish the fight with the highlight reel move, it was flashy enough to become known as the “Showtime Kick”. The fight went the distance and Pettis earned the decision in his favor, handing Henderson only the second loss of his career and leaving the WEC as the lightweight champion.
Since Pettis found the formula to defeat Henderson once, perhaps he’s managed to capture lightning in a bottle, which is something that Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez weren’t able to do before him. However, Pettis doesn’t feel that his win over Benson gives him an edge.
“When I first fought him I was young. I was only 23-years-old and now I’m 26 and we’ve both matured as fighters and as people, so you can’t really say I have an advantage. He’s the champ and I’m sure he’s used to the pressure so, I don’t see that being an advantage. I mean, it’s definitely there, but I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage,” said Pettis.
When Pettis came into the UFC, he was promised a title shot right away. He was next in line to challenge the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 2. That fight went to a draw and Pettis opted not to wait for the winner to emerge from the third battle. Instead he made his promotional debut against Clay Guida and was handed only the second loss of his career. In his own words, Pettis said the loss not only taught him that he “hates to lose”, but it also made him focus on doing everything within his power to avoid it from happening again.
“I fight a guy like Clay Guida and it exposes a hole in my game,” stated Pettis. “That was probably one of the toughest and biggest parts of my career. That’s when I decided to become a student of the game and learn everything I needed to learn so my athleticism matches my skills.”
With the rematch just three weeks away at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Pettis has gold within his reach once again. In the time Pettis has spent working his way back up to a title shot, Henderson has successfully defended his title three times. Still, the champ has yet to finish a fight inside the Octagon. Part of Pettis’ plan is to keep the pressure coming and impose his will come August 31.
“You see a lot of champions becoming point fighters,” Pettis said. “These guys want to keep their belts and there’s two sides of that story. Every challenger is very talented. Look at the lightweight division, everybody there is very well matched. It’s going to take a factor to change that to have somebody dominate these fights. That’s what I’m looking to do. All I can do is go in there and implement my game plan and hope for the best.”
“I want be the guy that goes out there and gives the fans a show. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Pettis said. “You’ve got so many fight fans and so many fighters, but I like to be that guy that fight fans want to watch because they don’t know what’s going to happen. I strive to be that different fighter and set myself apart from the group.”
Part of what sets Pettis apart from the pack are his devastating kicks which have stopped opponents like Joe Lauzon, Danny Castillo and Donald Cerrone in their tracks. With only four fights in the UFC thus far, Pettis has already picked up two post-fight bonuses for Knockout of the Night. So does he have a secret weapon in his arsenal that can dethrone the champ?
“I don’t try to go out there with one specific move that I want to try, or that I think will look cool or make the fans go crazy. I think if you do that, you’re limiting yourself in what you can do. I like to keep everything available. I have a lot of skills, a lot of moves that the world hasn’t seen yet in the Octagon. If I get the opportunity, I’m going to throw them.”
The battle for the UFC Lightweight Championship pitting Benson Henderson against Anthony Pettis goes down on August 31 in the BMO Bradley Harris Center in Milwaukee, WI, at UFC 164.