Benson Henderson vs Anthony Pettis: What's Changed Since WEC 53?
It's been almost three years since Anthony Pettis stole Benson Henderson's lightweight crown with the 'kick heard around the world' at WEC 53. However, both men find themselves in an eerily similar situation leading into this weekend's rematch at UFC 164.
Despite suffering a close decision loss to "Showtime" in the WEC's final show in 2010, "Smooth" has rebounded emphatically since joining the world's largest MMA promotion en route to his current reign as the 155-pound UFC champion.
On the flip side, Pettis once again finds in the position as the hungry challenger, having strung together a series of impressive wins following a rough debut inside the Octagon.
While both men find themselves in familiar territory, albeit under a different Zuffa banner this time, there are a few other that have changed for them going into Saturday night's fights.
Looking at Henderson's time with the UFC, it's clear that "Smooth" has stepped it up a notch as a fighter.
Having faced a who's who list of top lightweight fighters, from Gilbert Melendez to Frankie Edgar, Henderson has risen to the occasion each time to solidify his status as the division's top dog.
The champ has looked faster and stronger in his UFC outings compared to his days in the WEC, appearing more athletic and more on point with his attacks.
While Henderson hasn't been able to put away opponents, that's because he's facing the highest level of lightweight competition in the sport's history right now.
Some may call "Smooth's" recent wins a product of good luck or playing to the judges' preferences, but his close decision wins can really be attributed to a more focused game plan. No longer is Henderson getting caught in deep chokes or bad positions, but rather, he's edging out close calls by avoiding these things while turning up the intensity when he needs to.
As for Pettis, the thrill of being a world champion may have been short lived, but he too has proven himself to be a world class fighter in MMA's deepest division.
After a wrestling heavy loss to Clay Guida in his Octagon debut, Pettis showed much improvement in his takedown defense against Jeremy Stephens and otherworldly KO power with his kicks in his latest two performances against Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon.
The flashiness that earned Pettis his moniker is still present, but it's clear that "Showtime" has taken his game to another level as well.
Even in his sole UFC loss, Pettis showed great attacks from his guard and a feistiness for the finish that few others can contend with.
Both men, in terms of their tenacity and thirst for victory, haven't really changed much since their first meeting in December of 2010. However, both Henderson and Pettis are better all around in their MMA games and have taken themselves to new heights as athletes and martial artists.
I'm not sure if this fight will end the same way as the their first meeting, but you can be sure that it will be just as exciting, if not more so.
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