Anthony Pettis is on of MMA's most dynamic strikers. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The BMO Harris Bradley Center -- yes, that’s the venue’s actual name -- in Milwaukee once again hosts a UFC event on Saturday.
UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson will try to defend his belt against Wisconsin native Anthony Pettis after Frank Mir and Josh Barnett try to rip each other’s limbs off. The final WEC champion has the arduous task of improving upon his 2010 performance against Henderson, when Pettis defied gravity and debuted the “Showtime Kick.” Pettis may have to jump off Herb Dean and Bruce Buffer into a 360-degree kick to one-up what he did last time around against “Bendo.”
How We Got Here
T.J. Grant earned a shot at lightweight gold by blitzing Gray Maynard at UFC 160, but injury postponed the Canadian’s hopes at a championship. Pettis was originally slated to face Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 163, but Pettis too went down to injury. Luckily for Pettis, title shots are popping up all over the place like a game of Whac-A-Mole, and he is holding the mallet.
Former UFC heavyweight champions Mir and Barnett take over co-main event duties, with both fighters hold storied careers spanning over a decade. Chad Mendes puts his three-fight winning streak on the line against former Henderson victim Clay Guida in a featherweight matchup, representing just how good and exciting the 145-pound division has become.
Three Years in the Making
Ever since Pettis’ foot connected with Henderson’s face at WEC 53, fans have wondered when lightning would strike again. The WEC’s final bout summed up all that was good about the promotion: high-level fighters with chips on their shoulders from fighting in a “lesser” organization putting it all on the line and delivering electrifying fights. The jury was still out on whether or not the WEC lightweights could hang with the cream of the crop in the UFC, but fans already knew how exciting the likes of Henderson, Pettis, Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner could be. Pettis dropped his first UFC bout, while Henderson has yet to lose inside the Octagon.
At last, their paths converge again on Saturday night, and it’s about time. It will be nearly impossible to replicate their first fight, including the Showtime Kick, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t wear out the edge of their seats waiting for the next beer-spilling, jaw-dropping moment.
A Decade in the Making
Few heavyweights boast such long-tenured success as Barnett and Mir. Both fighters spent the better part of the last decade in the top 10, and both have held UFC gold. “Warmaster” Barnett wore the heavyweight crown shortly after Mir made his UFC debut in 2001. A matchup between the young, submission-savvy heavyweights had fight fans drooling. Both fighters possessed a combination of submission skill, strength and an all-around game that positioned the fight as a can’t-miss, top-notch affair. But, after defeating Randy Couture for the title at UFC 36, Barnett tested positive for a banned substance and was released by the promotion. Since then, the fight existed only as a “what if?” -- a question which will finally be answered on Saturday.
Henderson and Pettis’ first fight laid the groundwork for a potential rivalry for the ages. Both fighters were exciting prospects in their early 20s, still improving with each fight. The question wasn’t so much about whether a rematch would happen, but exactly how many times we would see the pair square off. So often in this sport, the fans’ perspective was far more dynamic than the fighters’. Neither guy brings up the other all that often, despite constantly being asked. The past three years could have been spent throwing gasoline on the flames of this rivalry. Instead, the champion has thrown sand on the fire with quotes like this one from a recent UFC media conference call: “It’s not my place to put a name on it and call it what it is. That’s for you guys to do. That’s your job. That’s the media’s job, the fans’ job to call it what it is. My job is to beat people up. That’s it.”
You want a card filled with competitive matchups? UFC 164 is just your bag, baby. By straight Vegas odds, the pay-per-view portion of the card is nearly all pick ‘em fights, with the exception of Chad Mendes’ status as a 4-to-1 favorite over Clay Guida. In fact, no other fighter is more than a 2-to-1 underdog on the entire card -- a rare feat in combat sports. Compare that to UFC 163, where only three fighters -- Thales Leites, Sergio Moraes and Francimar Bodao -- were less than 2-to-1 favorites. Every other matchup consisted of a native Brazilian as a huge favorite over a foreigner, or a Brazil-versus-Brazil fight. Good luck wagering against your friends. Can’t we just bet that all the fighters will have a good time?
Based on pure nostalgia alone, Pettis and Henderson will likely walk away with “Fight of the Night” bonuses. It’ll be well earned if their second fight is anywhere near as good as their first. If not, Dustin Poirier and Erik Koch should bring the fireworks, too. ... Because the matchmaking of UFC 164 is so good, “Knockout” and “Submission of the Night” awards are tough to predict. Barnett and Mir are both capable of ripping a rhino’s horn off, but neither has been submitted in their careers. Mendes, with the help of new coach Duane Ludwig, is on a three-fight KO streak, but Guida has never been stopped with strikes. I’m going undercard-heavy this time around: Soa Palelei versus Nikita Krylov produces the night’s big knockout, and Kyung Ho Kang pulls off an impressive submission against Chico Camus. It’s always nice to see the undercard guys cashing bonus checks.