Anthony Pettis didn't want to let the UFC lightweight title leave his hometown of Milwaukee. With a slick armbar submission in the first round, Pettis gave his hometown a good reason to party.
Coming into the fight, it was a common thought that Pettis was the superior striker while Benson Henderson was the better grappler. However, Pettis flipped the script and beat the champion at his own game.
With a raucous crowd behind him, Pettis’ adrenaline was no doubt in overdrive. The challenger did a good job of controlling his emotions in the early going by looking to pick his shots carefully.
Henderson then went to the strategy that had served him well in the past. He tied up Pettis in the clinch and put him against the cage. He used some strange kicks to the leg of Pettis but couldn’t get much else going.
This is the point where the fight turned in favor of the challenger.
It’s hard for a fighter’s wrestling to not get better when working with a guy like Ben Askren. Pettis showed last night that his ground game is certainly improving. He was able to stop Henderson’s takedown attempts and unloaded a series of kicks that could be heard throughout the arena in Milwaukee.
It took Henderson timing one of Pettis’ flashy kicks for him to get the fight to the mat.
When Pettis was able to stop Henderson from taking him down, it became clear Pettis had improved just as much as the champion had since their first matchup. Wrestling still may be the answer to Pettis’ stand-up game, but at UFC 164 he showed it won’t be easy to take him down.
Coming into the fight, Pettis told ESPN's Brett Okamoto that nobody would "'Guida' me ... again," referring to his loss to Clay Guida, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing that to the champion. There are lightweights out there who have good wrestling games, but working with Askren and Roufusport has obviously paid big dividends for Pettis.
I’m not proclaiming Pettis’ takedown defense as the best in all of MMA, but I do think it’s fair to say Pettis does have a well-rounded game as well. We all know about his striking game, but Pettis has shown he can be a dual threat with his performances against Henderson and Jeremy Stephens.