Benson Henderson was a lightweight king on the verge of making history, but when the lights dimmed and it was showtime, Anthony Pettis proved once again to be a major roadblock in “Smooth’s” path to greatness.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali once said: “It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.”
At UFC 164, Pettis proved to be more than just a pebble in Henderson’s shoe. A better example would be a nightmare that never seems to go away.
It was déjà vu on Saturday night as Pettis defeated Henderson for a second time to claim the UFC lightweight title. There weren’t any flashy kicks off the cage that warranted a top spot in the Sunday morning highlights. It was technical efficiency and grappling brilliance from Pettis, who finished the fight with an armbar in the waning moments of the first round.
“I felt his arm pop, and I heard him say, ‘Tap, tap, tap,’” Pettis told UFC commentator Joe Rogan after the fight.
The main lessons learned in the Pettis and Henderson rematch is the heavy influence of past letdowns and the mind’s ability to cope with those losses.
On paper, Henderson seemed to be the more improved fighter of the two. He was on a seven-fight win streak and was one win away from surpassing BJ Penn’s record for most successful UFC lightweight title defenses.
While Pettis also enjoyed UFC success, he had a minor hiccup against Clay Guida nearly two years ago, which brought about some skepticism of his chances against Henderson in a rematch.
It’s almost eerie hearing Pettis claim he knew he was “in Henderson’s head” during the UFC pay-per-view’s opening segment.
Henderson, who typically comes out aggressive, gave Pettis more respect than he’s given anyone in the UFC. He appeared tentative on the feet and unsure of himself at times, which opened up Pettis’ ability to impose his will with vicious body kicks.
Even on the ground, Henderson made an uncharacteristic mistake in letting Pettis control his arm for an extended period of time and clear the shoulder with his leg to lock up the armbar finish.
Sure, there is a lesson to be learned in technical efficiency that even a highly respected black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu like Henderson can take away from this fight. Despite his grappling prowess, he has a history of being overzealous and sloppy in grappling transitions.
People typically brag about all of the close submissions he’s been able to escape, but no one has ever questioned why he keeps getting caught in such bad positions in the first place.
The brunt of the credit belongs to Pettis for demonstrating versatility in submitting a world champion who also happens to be one of the best BJJ artists in the lightweight division.
If kryptonite exists, then Pettis is the glowing green rock to Henderson’s Superman.