UFC 164 is looking like a pretty good card.
Josh Barnett is back where he belongs and in a bout with Frank Mir, there's a featherweight mini-tournament that could provide the same sort of fun the welterweight version did at UFC 158 and the curious carnival sideshow of Ben Rothwell battling Brandon Vera is smack in the middle of it all.
Yup, pretty good card indeed.
And it's headlined by one of the most highly-anticipated rematches the lightweight division could ever offer—former WEC champions Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis square off for the UFC title.
It's already been noted what Henderson has to do to stay champion against Pettis, but what does Pettis have to do if he wants to wrest the belt from the champ?
One of these might help, I guess. But barring that, there are other avenues to take.
No question, he's the better striker. And that goes beyond the ability to spring off the cage like a monkey and land flying kicks.
He's more technical, more powerful, quicker and more willing to commit to strikes. When Pettis lands, he hurts guys. You don't see him throwing together long combos, because he rarely needs to; he finishes guys on first and second strikes all the time.
This is where his bread and butter will be against the ultra-durable champion, a guy who has gotten to the top of the heap by being decent at everything and always a little better than the last time you saw him.
His striking, in particular, has improved, as his kicking technique has developed to go along with his growing comfort as a boxer. He still lacks power, but he makes up for it in gameness.
Still, when push comes to shove, Pettis will win a fight on the feet. It could be close if he can't stop Henderson (which has proven to be a real task, in fact), but he'll still win there.
If the champion tries to brawl with him, he'll get hit a lot, and it will hurt a lot. If he tries to nibble away at the edges without ever going for a big bite, he'll open himself up to the big shots Pettis has shown against guys like Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone.
The main ghost in the machine of a Pettis success is Henderson's wrestling and grappling. He can take Pettis down, and you'd have to think he will if he sees the chance to.
Pettis is comfortable fighting off of his back and, like any guy who wears the Roufusport stamp, is actually wildly underappreciated there. But judges don't give you rounds for threatening with triangles and the occasional good hip escape.
Sprawl and brawl is the ticket if it's possible or space and scrambles if the fight ends up on the ground. Anything else is a black hole against someone as good at winning rounds as Henderson is.
The formula for Anthony Pettis to become the UFC lightweight champion in his hometown is simple: keep Benson Henderson off of him, and make him pay for every inch he gives up.
If he does that, he'll be the new king at 155.