’s 2013 Submission of the Year

Changing of the Guard

By Jordan Breen Jan 11, 2014
UFC gold changed hands on Anthony Pettis’ armbar. | Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

2. Changing of the Guard

Anthony Pettis simply winning his rematch with Benson Henderson at UFC 164 would have been sensational enough. Instead, as he often does, “Showtime” found a way to electrify the MMA world.

After temporarily abandoning the 155-pound division, Pettis sustained a PCL injury in training for a clash with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. However, just over a month after the injury, lightweight challenger T.J. Grant pulled out of his Aug. 31 bout with Henderson due to a concussion. With six weeks to prepare, “Showtime” stepped into the contest -- a rematch of one of the best bouts in MMA history -- to challenge for lightweight supremacy, incidentally, in his own hometown of Milwaukee.

Pettis started strong on the feet, stuffing early Henderson takedown attempts and cracking him with a serious salvo of roundhouse kicks to the body. The bout took a change in location, however, when Pettis tried to draw on the theatrics he created in the first fight by throwing a capoeira-style banana kick. Henderson tackled him out of the attempt and wound up in guard, where it seemed like he was ready to get down to business.

Initially, Henderson tried to yank his arm straight out of Pettis’ clutches, a move which is hardly technical but often highly effective in MMA. In fact, Henderson has made great historical use of exploding vertically out of submission attempts from his opponent’s guards and then dropping potent ground-and-pound in response. Pettis shrewdly controlled the arm and realized he was not going to get the tap trying to force Henderson’s elbow across the nearside of his own body. With secure wrist control, Pettis deftly repositioned Henderson’s arm across his body, establishing a fulcrum over his own right thigh and escalating his armbar attempt into a red-alert scenario for the champ.

There are a host of quirks and quasi-ironies surrounding the fight’s outcome, none of which were lost on fans. It was Henderson’s first fight as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and after thwarting so many brilliant submission attempts from great fighters over the years, he was tapped with a basic armbar. While Henderson typically personifies his “Smooth” nickname, that word might be the most apt adjective for Pettis’ submission. On top of that, it was perhaps the most beautiful anti-climax in MMA history: Since the armbar got turned up to 11 so quickly and because Henderson had to cry out verbally to tap, it was not immediately clear what had happened. It looked like it might be a Murilo Bustamante-Matt Lindland- or Paulo Filho-Chael Sonnen 1-type scenario. Instead, the emotional pantomime cleared up any confusion, as Henderson jogged on the spot, dejected and clutching his elbow, and Pettis leaped onto the cage in ecstasy.

The “Showtime Kick” let us know Pettis was a thrilling young entertainer, but his armbar over Henderson showed us he has turned into the man at 155 pounds -- a man who knows how to put on for his city.

Continue Reading » Number Three: Choke Artist


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