Benson Henderson (right) | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
With two meaningful championship bouts for its closing act before the organization is folded into the UFC, WEC 53 should be a swan song to remember.
WEC’s three weight classes -- 155, 145, and 135 pounds -- will bring additional storylines and marketable talent to the UFC. The big question: how will the WEC lightweights fare in the UFC’s deep 155-pound division? One indicator could come when the winner of Thursday’s main event faces the UFC lightweight champion in 2011 to unify the titles.
Below, a closer look at the WEC 53 main card.
Benson Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis
WEC Lightweight Championship
If you wanted to make a match that would showcase the dynamic talents of the lightweight division, it’d be hard to beat this one on pure potential. That’s because Henderson and Pettis exemplify everything good about the emerging breed of mixed martial artists. Both are athletic, finely-tuned competitors who mix tactical intelligence with a penchant for eye-popping moves.
Neither guy is afraid to take risks, which is why this is an outstanding match. Diametrically opposed in styles, Henderson will want a slower pace on the feet, but a fast-paced bout on the ground, while Pettis will likely look to utilize his dynamic standup. Pettis was impressive in battling Shane Roller in his last bout, a gutsy third-round triangle choke victory where he got the better of the ground battle while showing off his trademark flashy striking.
Henderson, meanwhile, is developing his standup, but has a well-honed wrestling base. He closes the gap as quick as any fighter you’ll see and has a sense of positional awareness that makes regaining the initiative a tough thing for opponents caught in bad spots. Henderson will need to be very careful while working his way in for a takedown, as Pettis has a clear advantage on the feet.
The key for Pettis will be mixing up his strikes and exploiting the scant openings Henderson leaves while closing the gap to tie up. If Pettis can’t stuff takedowns and tighten up defensively on the feet -- Roller was able to tag him with some fairly telegraphed shots -- Henderson will be able to take him down and grind out an early lead which could be tough to overcome.
Off his back, Pettis has a good defensive guard, while Henderson is outstanding at escaping submissions and keeping the pressure on. For ground geeks, this will be a very fast-paced, yet subtle battle on the mat, should it go there.
This is a very competitive match with subplots galore, and while I think Henderson may match up better with some of the UFC’s top lightweights, we’ll go with the upset here and take Pettis via fourth-round knockout.