When Benson Henderson takes on Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Saturday, fans can only pray the bout is as good as their previous meeting. While Henderson is held as a slight favorite amongst oddsmakers, there are reasons to believe Pettis can take the belt from the champion, just as he did in the WEC.
Henderson and Pettis made the final match of the farewell show for the WEC one of the greatest fights of all time. It was a back-and-forth war that had no clear winner until the judges rendered the final tally. Now the two have a chance to outdo themselves and put on an even better showcase for the fans.
Coming into the bout, both fighters possess the same capabilities they displayed in their last meeting.
Pettis still throws dynamic strikes and uses his creativity to break opponents down on the feet and on the canvas. Henderson is still a tireless grinder who uses his size and dexterity to outclass opponents.
The only true blemish in Henderson's skill set is that he has lost his finishing touch. When speaking to Ben Fowlkes of MMAJunkie.com, Pettis stated he is aware of Henderson's penchant for decisions.
I'm sure he's expecting a five-round fight. He's the champ, and he knows he needs to win five rounds to keep that belt. GSP does it the same way. These guys are intelligent fighters, and they know they have to win the rounds to keep their belt. I'm expecting him to do what he's been doing. He's going to come out, do just enough to win the rounds, and keep his belt. That's his game plan, and that's never my game plan. I'm always looking to finish.
Pettis knows his opponent, and the fact that he likes to finish is great; however, it can put him at a disadvantage against Henderson.
The champion will look to take Pettis down within the final minute of each round. But Pettis knows that, and Henderson likely knows that Pettis knows it.
For the champ, a takedown at the start of the round is just as good as near the end. And while Pettis will look to avoid last-minute takedowns, Henderson might jump on early takedown opportunities to secure the round off the bat. Judges score takedowns heavily, and Henderson will capitalize on that knowledge.
Looking for an early finish to the night might be key for Pettis. He knows Henderson is expecting five rounds. Because of that, he may expect the champ to pace himself early. If Pettis can take it to him quickly, he might be able to catch Henderson off guard and in a lower gear.
The challenge for Pettis will be staying aggressive and seeking the early kill while defending the champ's takedowns. The answer is simple: Pettis has to use his improved wrestling more than he did in their first bout.
Following his loss to Clay Guida at the The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale, Pettis returned to the drawing board to round out his ground game. He now mainly uses his wrestling in reverse, a la Chuck Liddell. By doing so, he can keep fights standing, which is his preference.
His better wrestling will play a large role against Henderson, who attempted 13 takedowns in the first bout and is likely to amass a similar tally at UFC 164.
A final variable has to be thrown into the prediction: Milwaukee is Pettis' stomping ground. While Henderson will state that Pettis' home-field advantage does not bother him, he was noticeably annoyed at the weigh-ins of his reception—although, to be fair, a weight cut makes everyone not named Yves Edwards cranky.
He will hear more boos than most champions as he enters the Octagon for his fourth title defense on Saturday. During the fight, he will hear the crowd jeer if he works for takedowns or measures out Pettis. That could cause the champion to overextend himself while looking for a finish that isn't there.
At a minimum, it has to have some effect on Henderson's psyche and could play a role in the outcome.
Odds: Henderson (-130) favorite over Pettis (Even)
Prediction: Pettis in under five rounds.