The fifty-third and final event for the WEC before merging with the UFC is all set for this Thursday night (Dec. 16) at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona. WEC 53: "Henderson vs. Pettis" will air live on the Versus network beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
The event will feature two of the promotion's world titles on the line for the last time as lightweight champion Benson Henderson defends his 155-pound strap against division number one contender Anthony Pettis, while 135-pound kingpin Dominick Cruz tries to quell the uprising of streaking bantamweight Scott Jorgensen.
A dynamite lightweight scrap between Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Chris "The Polish Hammer" Horodecki is also booked for the blockbuster card.
To help get you better prepared for the festivities, we've given some analysis and predictions for the main card bouts below.
155 lbs.: Ben "Smooth" Henderson vs. Anthony "Showtime" Pettis
My friends tell me that I don't give Henderson enough respect when I pick his fights. I don't feel like I'm guilty of that, but apparently I've picked against him in all four of his WEC main card appearances. I'm actually a big fan of "Smooth," but I guess I'm still not sold on his legitimacy as a top 155-pound fighter. Either way, I'll be picking against him again in this fight.
It's still early in his career, but the 23-year-old Pettis appears to be one of the real gems to be uncovered by the WEC.
"Showtime" is far and away the better striker of the two. He's extremely fast, and his kicks are as dangerous as anyone's in the WEC lightweight division. Henderson still doesn't look like a finished product on his feet, and I think he'd get tooled in a straight kickboxing match with Pettis.
Fortunately for the champ, he's still allowed to use his wrestling, which is an advantage he'll have in this match-up. How much that advantage will help him is another story. He'll have to be careful on the mat with Pettis if he's forced into taking him there. The challenger's submissions are nearly as dangerous as his striking. In fact, he's won more fights by submission than knockout. He's also finished two straight opponents off his back, including one of the division's best wrestlers in Shane Roller, with triangle chokes.
His takedown defense and cardio were especially impressive in the Roller fight. If there were any doubts leftover from the Palaszewski loss about Pettis' ability to deal with wrestlers and takedowns, he erased them on that night.
Still though, the champion is the champion for a reason.
Roller is one of the best wrestlers in the division on paper, but Henderson has gotten it done in the cage. His MMA wrestling is stellar, and he's been basically impossible to submit. He can have success where Roller failed against Pettis with takedowns and ground and pound, but he'll have to be able to overpower the challenger on the mat and find ways to take dominant positions. He'll also have to stay on high alert at all times from the top position, because Pettis is quick and crafty. If you leave him any opening at all, he'll look to capitalize.
This is going to be a war, but Pettis is better and has more ways to win. He appears to be the total package, and with the WEC merging its roster with the UFC after this event, I have him pegged to make a much bigger splash than Henderson.
That splash starts with a big win in this fight.
Final prediction: Anthony Pettis via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Dominick Cruz vs. Scott "Young Guns" Jorgensen
This fight is similar to the main event. Cruz (Pettis) is the superior striker and the better all around fighter, while Jorgensen (Henderson) is tough as hell and will need to use his wrestling to win.
I'm taking Cruz.
If Jorgensen's chances to win rely on keeping the distance closed, scoring with takedowns and maintaining solid ground control, then he's going to have a hard time executing on fight night. The champion's striking style and movement are one of a kind, and he's obviously very effective with it. Catching him and getting inside won't be an easy task.
Plus, Cruz has proven that he can maintain that continuous movement for a full twenty-five minute fight, and his wrestling is a strength, not a liability. Even if Jorgensen can get inside, I have my doubts that he'll be able to get the champ to the floor, much less keep him there if he does. And in a straight stand-up fight, Jorgensen wouldn't have much more than a puncher's chance.
This is the champion's fight to win or lose.
He's much better on his feet, his Muay Thai from the clinch is very good, his wrestling is solid, and he doesn't allow himself to stay on his back if taken down. Jorgensen is a fun fighter to watch because he leaves it all in the cage, but he's outclassed by a little bit here. I don't think he'll be able to keep up and do enough damage to win rounds. This is the biggest fight of his life, though, and he's going to be nearly impossible to finish.
I say it goes the distance with the champ retaining his belt.
Final prediction: Dominick Cruz via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone vs. Chris "The Polish Hammer" Horodecki
I like "Cowboy" to win this fight. He looked great against Varner a couple of months ago, and I think his skill set is superior to Horodecki's. Sure, the rematch with Varner was an easy one to get motivated for, but I don't think there will be a letdown in this fight for Cerrone. Greg Jackson appears to have his fighter focused and on top of his game.
"The Polish Hammer" has put together back to back wins under the WEC banner, and he's starting to look more and more like his old IFL-self. This is a bad match-up for him, though, and I think Cerrone is going to win big.
Not only will "Cowboy's" length allow him to land more effective strikes with his hands and his feet in the stand-up, but it'll provide the same match-up problems on the ground, as well. He's won most of his fights by submission, with a bunch of those coming off his back. This is a pick your poison fight for Horodecki. Stay on your feet and you get beat up. Take it to the ground and you get choked out.
I like a motivated and focused "Cowboy" Cerrone to end his WEC career on a high note.
Final prediction: "Cowboy" via submission
155 lbs.: Bart Palaszewski vs. Kamal Shalorus
Shalorus has yet to lose in the WEC. He's a great wrestler with excellent ground and pound. His stand-up is improving, but his wrestling is still his bread and butter. He fought to a draw against Varner his last time out with most of the fight being contested on the feet.
Palaszewski has a tough fight ahead of him because Shalorus is the stronger of the two and both guys like to wrestle. But "Bartimus" has a ton of MMA experience over "The Prince of Persia," and he's always dangerous with submissions on the mat. Plus, he's built up a nice bit of momentum with four straight wins, including a split decision victory over current top contender Anthony Pettis.
This is a stiff test for Shalorus coming off the Varner fight. I think he can overwhelm Palaszewski if he goes right at him. But if he takes a more cautious approach, the longer the fight goes on, the more chance the cagey veteran will have of pulling something off or working his way into a favorable position.
It's an interesting fight. I'll go with Shalorus to power his way to victory.
Final prediction: Kamal Shalorus via technical knockout
That's all from us. Sound off with your predictions in the comments section below.