Benson Henderson is 17-1 over his last 18 bouts. | File Photo
If you watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s debut on Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 17, then you are probably well aware of how Benson Henderson views the only loss of his Zuffa tenure. Thanks to a UFC 164 promo that seemed to air during every commercial break that night, we now know that “Smooth” sees his hard-fought December 2010 defeat to Anthony Pettis inside World Extreme Cagefighting, not as the pinnacle of competition but as a “stain on his soul.”
It only makes sense then that Henderson would get a chance to remove such a lasting mark by beating Pettis in his hometown of Milwaukee. As for Pettis, even if he cannot duplicate the “Showtime” kick that made him both a YouTube sensation and the final WEC champion three years ago, he will be more than happy to pry another belt from Henderson’s clutches by any means he can. Being referred to as a soul stain tends to have that kind of effect on a man.
Here is a closer look at the UFC 164 lineup on Saturday, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 164 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Lightweight ChampionshipBenson Henderson (19-2, 7-0 UFC) vs. Anthony Pettis (16-2, 3-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Henderson has mastered the high-wire act in lightweight title bouts, with narrow victories over Frankie Edgar (twice) and Gilbert Melendez marking his reign. At least two of those triumphs -- Melendez and the second meeting with Edgar -- could have easily gone the other way, but Henderson’s penchant for winning the close ones is more than just good fortune. While the MMA Lab representative has always been known for his wrestling, work rate and athleticism, his improved striking, especially his ability to use kicks to the legs and body, has fueled his ascent in the UFC.
Pettis, the last person to defeat “Smooth,” might be better equipped than any of the recent challengers to make Henderson taste his first defeat since the WEC’s swan song in December 2010. That fight is most remembered for Pettis’ highlight-reel kick off the cage in the fifth round -- and for good reason. Henderson has been able to get the better of foes such of Edgar and Melendez thanks to his activity and pace, and neither of the two was able to author any one moment to give the cageside judges pause. Pettis’ “Showtime” kick put a tidy ribbon on a well-earned victory, but many had the contest tied up at two rounds apiece heading into the final stanza, meaning the Duke Roufus understudy did well to leave a lasting imprint on the fight.
Still, Pettis did far more in that fight than create a SportsCenter highlight. While Henderson controlled the center of the cage against Edgar, Pettis was the aggressor at WEC 53, often stalking the Arizonan until he was trapped against the cage. From there, Pettis is adept at setting up his more powerful strikes, including the aforementioned kick. Pettis will not overwhelm anyone in terms of sheer volume, but his ability to remain relaxed while setting the table for flashier techniques makes him dangerous.
Henderson racks up a significant amount of points on the feet with his kicks, and even when opponents have been able to catch them, it usually occurs after impact. However, Pettis proved he could counter Henderson’s kicks consistently with punching combinations to the head. Unless the champion starts to do a better job of using combinations of his own to set up his kicks, Pettis could very well have similar success in the rematch.
Henderson’s true talent, however, lies in his ability to set a withering pace in tie-ups and on the canvas. His athleticism and upper body strength are serious assets, while being nearly impossible to submit allows him to work relentlessly to advance position, even against an active guard player such as Pettis. Even though the champion might be able to secure a few dominant positions in scrambles, Pettis is just as capable of reverse and transitioning, as he did in taking Henderson’s back in their first fight. Aside from his loss to Clay Guida, Pettis has shown decent defensive wrestling, and any poorly timed shots from Henderson could be countered by a knee from the Milwaukee native.
The Pick: Pettis’ kickboxing arsenal allows him to control distance better than most against Henderson. Backed by competent wrestling and a savvy ground game, that means lightning could strike twice for the final WEC lightweight ruler. Pettis wins a decision by landing the harder, cleaner shots on the feet while not allowing Henderson to control the fight on the ground for extended periods of time.
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