It isn't often that you find two mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters whose names will probably be connected for the entirety of their careers ... and even long thereafter. For this to happen, those two fighters have to have done something incredible against one another in the cage.
In Henderson's backyard, the two went to war for five rounds in a close 155-pound title match that was capped off with Pettis' much-acclaimed "Showtime" kick that won him the fifth round and ultimately the unanimous decision. But, before that, Henderson and Pettis showed their proficiency in all facets of the sport, putting together great exchanges in the clinch, on the ground and at striking range.
The classic bout spoke volumes about their talent, legitimizing their positions among the top competitors in the division prior to an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) transition. Henderson's subsequent UFC title run was nothing short of brilliant, plugging up all the holes in his game to beat some of the world's best Lightweight competition ... often as the under dog.
Despite an early hiccup in Pettis' UFC run, he has also been an impressive specimen against top-level opposition. After having his guaranteed title shot taken away when Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fought to a draw, Pettis was forced to take a fight with Clay Guida while the championship was sorted out.
Guida proved to be too tenacious for Pettis, as he was overwhelmed on the ground over three rounds and dropped a decision. The loss could not deter him from his title aspirations, though, as he went on to defeat Jeremy Stephens, Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone successively, showing that he is every bit the flashy striker he was when he took the WEC title from Henderson.
In their rematch tonight (Sat., Aug. 31, 2013) in the main event of UFC 164, which takes place BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., expect an extended version of their first clash from WEC 53. They are two men skilled in every facet of MMA and there is no reason to believe one will be able to blow the other out of the water. Since their first fight, both men have improved by leaps and bounds, making this rematch that much more interesting.
Henderson is -- and always has been -- a tenacious attacker with solid striking and excellent grappling. His only downfall in recent fights has been his tendency to continue striking battles even if he isn't winning them, but luckily for him it hasn't cost him. He excels at striking in very close range, blitzing with punches, elbows and knees, but his striking at distance is limited mostly to predictable kicking and punching combinations.
Pettis holds a serious advantage here at distance striking, as it is very well known to be his preferred area of fighting. His flashy yet effective style allows for a lot of variety and unpredictability, which will undoubtedly create problems for Benson. However, up close, Pettis is not the impressive fighter he is at distance, with fairly basic abilities and a build not well suited to pushing around the much more muscular fighter in Henderson.
On the mat, these two fighters are very evenly matched. Henderson tends to be the better positional grappler, dominating and advancing through his opponents' guards and dealing out damage from the top position. Pettis is a fighter who looks for sweeps and submissions from bottom, confident in his ability to gain the upper hand even if he is put on his back.
This fight will be one that takes place anywhere and everywhere, unlikely that either man will want to back down at any point. While it is unlikely we see another "Showtime" kick, the exchanges between these two men will be very exciting and very technical, pushing both men to constantly be on top of their games.
Henderson will have to win battles in the clinch and on the ground, while Pettis will have to keep Henderson from mauling him at phone booth range and keep the fight at a distance so he can work his flashy striking techniques. These men each have definite advantages over one another, but none are so overwhelming that this fight won't be competitive everywhere it goes.
Ultimately, this fight will be a battle for each man to fight in their preferred positions, with both men dishing out plenty of their own offense. It will certainly be a fight worth watching, and it may even outdo their first outing from WEC 53.