Fans have been calling for it, both fighters have been calling for it and now it has become a reality. After a concussion forced UFC lightweight contender T.J. Grant to pull out of his title match against champion Benson Henderson at UFC164, fight fans began to wonder who would step up against such a dangerous opponent with only a month to prepare.
That man was none other than the Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, the man known for the most famous highlight in mixed martial arts history and the last man to defeat the champion back in 2010 in Henderson’s hometown of Glendale.
Originally scheduled to square off against longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 163 before a knee injury forced him out, Pettis lost yet another title shot that slipped through his fingers since joining the UFC back in 2011. But the injury was a blessing in disguise, as less than a month later Grant pulled out his own title shot and Pettis’s dreams of UFC gold were reborn as he eagerly accepted the fight against Henderson.
Pettis seemed to agree that the fight gods were smiling upon him as he took to Twitter to give his take on the situation:
U can't stop destiny !!! Me and Henderson for the belt in my home town!!!!
— Anthony Pettis (@Showtimepettis) July 13, 2013
The champion Henderson quickly responded with a simple emoticon to express his eagerness to avenge the last loss on his professional record:
— Benson Henderson (@BensonHenderson) July 13, 2013
The last time these two octagon warriors faced off was back at WEC 53, the last WEC card before it was absorbed into the UFC and the only fight card under the Zuffa banner to be held in the Valley.
In what was widely considered the 2011 Fight of Year, Pettis walked away with the lightweight belt after hitting Henderson with what is now called the “Showtime kick.” It was the last time Henderson tasted defeat and the last time Pettis had his hands on a championship belt.
Appearing to on the MMA Hour on MMAFighting.com, Pettis revealed that even though he is a slight favorite in the rematch, he is expecting a completely different Henderson than the last time they met.
“[Henderson is] a whole new fighter, a way different fighter than he was in the WEC days. But I am, too,” said Pettis. “It’s not like I’m the same Anthony Pettis you fought in Arizona. This is a totally different Anthony Pettis. It’s funny because my last two fights, the world only got to see me perform for like two minutes, so no one really knows how much I’ve evolved as a fighter. I’m excited to get out there and show what I’ve been working on.”
Henderson went on to reiterate his desire to decision loss to Pettis and revealed it was only a matter of time before the two met up again.
“I knew I would get my hands on him again,” Henderson told our own Jim Grieshaber. “It’s just gonna be sooner than I thought. I can’t wait to see him in there again.”
This time around the two will square off at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Pettis’ hometown of Milwaukee and has become the first rematch in a string of rematches to close out 2013 in UFC. If Pettis can manage to stay healthy it is guaranteed fireworks.
“All I know is that, if I lost to somebody and I’m the champ, I would want to avenge that loss,” said Pettis. “I think he’s excited for the fight. He should be. It’s my hometown now. He knows what I did to him in his hometown. Everybody saw what I did to him in his hometown. I’m sure he’s going to bring it.
Pettis would continue his verbal jabs at Henderson later in the week and took aim at his opponent’s tendency to eek out controversial split decision as opposed to finishing his opponents, a feat Henderson has yet to accomplish since joining the UFC back in 2011.
“I’m not a fan of that style,” Pettis told MMA Junkie. “I wouldn’t even try doing that. That’s just manipulating the rules of the game to keep your title…He’s going to come out, do just enough to win the rounds, and keep his belt. That’s his game plan, and that’s never my game plan. I’m always looking to finish.”
In response to Pettis’s outspoken attitude towards his fighting style, Henderson reminded everyone why he goes by the name of ‘Smooth’ as he stated he’s looking forward to Aug. 31 and Pettis is simply another opponent looking to gain what he already has.
“Looks like I got Anthony next. I’m going to get my hands on him, after that it’ll be TJ,” said Henderson. “I’ve definitely been waiting to get my hands on Pettis again. It’s not for me to say this guy earned that. You’ve got to earn your way to a title shot. [But] I’m excited for it. I go in there and beat guys up.”