Remember when Anthony Pettis stepped into hostile territory to face then-WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at WEC 53 in Glendale, AZ? It feels like ages ago that the two closed out the final card of the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting, even though it happened just three years ago.
Those who remember the fight saw the bout even after four rounds and prepared to debate over whether or not anyone won or lost the fifth round. Then, from out of nowhere, Pettis ran toward the wall of the WEC cage, sprung off and used the momentum of the launch to find a home for a right head kick that dropped Henderson.
Henderson would hold on until the end of the round, but still lost a unanimous decision to Pettis, who left Henderson's home state as the final WEC lightweight champion. Both men would eventually make their way to the UFC, traveling on different roads that would lead them to their much-anticipated rematch.
Henderson, now the reigning UFC lightweight champion, rides a seven-fight winning streak, though some still dispute his two wins over Frankie Edgar and his recent UFC on Fox 7 win over Gilbert Melendez. Meanwhile, Pettis started his UFC career with a loss to Clay Guida, accumulated a three-fight winning streak, and now fills in for an injured TJ Grant to fight at home for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 164.
Actually, Pettis planned on seeing UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 163, but an injury befell Pettis. Luckily, the injury did not prove severe enough to keep him from fighting at home. With Grant out, Pettis and Henderson both get the opportunity they equally desire.
Still, while Pettis and Henderson will look to bring a different fight from the one they brought to Glendale, should fans expect to see the two repeat the first fight when the two duke it out in Milwaukee?
For a number of reasons, fans should expect a near-repeat of the first fight.
Pettis brings unorthodox striking and an active ground game. Though he struggled with Guida's wrestling, that striking and that ground game promise to bring out the aggression that defined Henderson's WEC run.
More than just the moves that Pettis throws out of thin air, he throws them in a textbook manner. From Capoeira-style kicks to liver kicks, and from Showtime knees to his patented Showtime Kick, Pettis perfected his striking technique to where everything he throws appears beautifully executed, even when some of those strikes do not land flush on his opponent's anatomy.
Likewise, consider Henderson's style for a moment. The "Smooth" one brings a style that presents opportunities for fights to end in close or controversial manners, often with him landing more than he appears en route to decision wins. Additionally, he incorporates a number of strong takedowns into his game and looks to keep active whenever he takes his opponent to the ground.
From a statistical standpoint, the champ's success in various areas of the game speaks for itself, though Pettis' success proves impressive in its own right. For instance, the champ's success in takedowns gives him an automatic edge on paper, as do his accuracy defense and output on the feet. However, Pettis' strikes not only pack a bit more power into them, but they also prove effective in areas few ever mention with Pettis.
In the clinch, Pettis' striking proves lethal. His effectiveness with his jab takes a backseat to very few in the division. As far as grappling goes, the champion's success in takedowns delivers a bottom line, but only if one ignores what Pettis does when he actually does attempt takedowns, as well as what he does on the ground and what he goes for in the submission department.
The bottom line, though, is that fans should expect an encore of the first fight predominantly for the fact that once the Octagon door closes, the things Pettis and Henderson normally bring fly right out the window, along with the stats.
Sure, fans will see Pettis look to fight more strategically in areas where Henderson bested him before, just as Henderson will look to showcase improvements in areas that Pettis proved superior back in 2010. Nevertheless, in doing so, something will give and someone will leave an opening.
Once that happens, the other will take advantage. Then we will witness another split fight heading into its final round, forcing both men to unleash one game-changing maneuver in order to pull through in the clutch and leave Milwaukee with the UFC lightweight title.
As for who unleashes the "move of the fight," we will find out this Saturday night. Rest assured that nobody will forget it afterward, just as nobody will ever forget the first fight that started it all between two of the best representatives of the UFC lightweight division's present and future.