UFC 164: What We Learned from Benson Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis
It was the rematch we always figured we'd see someday.
Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis are young. They're talented. And those considerable talents will keep them around the top of the lightweight division for years to come, which is why we knew we'd see them face each other at least one more time and possibly, two, three or four more times.
Thankfully for us, we didn't have to wait around forever. Providence intervened, with T.J. Grant suffering an injury and Pettis stepping in to take his place. It was the only logical main event to make, with UFC 164 taking place in Pettis' hometown of Milwaukee.
With Henderson and Pettis, we know that we're going to be treated to something special. The "Showtime Kick" highlighted the first fight. In the second fight, it wasn't so much of a highlight-reel moment as it was just plain weird.
Henderson's game plan manifested itself early. He wasted no time in shooting for a single-leg takedown. He didn't get it, but he kept Pettis against the cage for much of the first round, attempting to tire Pettis in advance of a protracted five-round fight.
It didn't work.
Once Pettis was able to create some separation from Henderson, he unleashed four consecutive body kicks that hurt Henderson. Pettis then attempted a capoeira kick that missed, and Henderson landed in Pettis' guard on the ground.
And that was the moment when everything changed.
With stunning speed, Pettis secured an armbar. Henderson attempted to stack Pettis up and prevent the submission, but Pettis expertly twisted the arm. We didn't see it on camera, but Pettis said after the fight that he felt Henderson's arm snap and heard a verbal submission.
Referee Herb Dean apparently heard the same thing, and the fight was over with Pettis claiming a championship from Henderson for the second time in a row.
After the fight, Pettis used his time on the microphone to challenge Jose Aldo, the man Pettis was originally scheduled to face earlier this month before an injury caused him to pull out of the fight.
So, what did we learn? Here are a few key takeaways:
Anthony Pettis Is a Highly Marketable Champion
Henderson, despite putting in good performances, never connected with the crowd. Pettis has all of the tools to not just be a great lightweight champion, but to also be a marketable and effective champion.
He's got the good looks. He's got an exciting style. And he has charisma. Essentially, Pettis has the chance to be a true lightweight superstar on the level of someone like B.J. Penn. Even Frankie Edgar, despite being popular, never held a status that lofty.
Pettis' Varied Attacks Are a Treat to Watch
With a fight that lasted under one round, it's hard to determine what we saw in terms of skill. But one thing I'd like to point out: the four consecutive body kicks that Pettis used. They were an indication of a fighter who thinks quite differently in the cage. Body kicks are something you typically see one or two of; rarely do you see them strung together, especially with such effectiveness.
The capoeira kick that Pettis attempted, even though he missed, was yet another example of the willingness Pettis has to try new things. He'll keep his opponents off balance, and they can never be quite sure what's coming around the corner.
Are We in Store for a Real Superfight?
Who do you want to see fight Pettis next?
Pettis challenging Aldo was a thing of beauty. He said he'd fight Aldo for the featherweight champ's belt or for the one he'd just acquired.
There are plenty of interesting lightweight fights in store for Pettis. T.J. Grant is still waiting in the wings, and Gilbert Melendez is probably thrilled that Pettis won, because it gives him an opportunity for another shot at the title. And then there are guys like Josh Thomson, who are one or two effective wins away from a title shot of their own.
And what of Henderson? He's 0-2 against Pettis now, and as long as "Showtime" keeps that belt around his waist, Henderson will need a string of convincing wins to earn a third fight. That doesn't mean it's out of the realm of possibility; it just means that Henderson will truly have to earn another rematch.
I want to see all those fights, but I think I'd much rather see Aldo move up from featherweight to challenge for the lightweight title. If it doesn't happen, however, I'm fine with the idea of watching Pettis fight Melendez, Grant, Thomson or anyone else the UFC throws in there with him.
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