Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returned to Milwaukee, Wisc., on Saturday night (Aug. 31 2013) and it could not have been a better storybook ending for the hometown prince.
Anthony Pettis won the Lightweight championship in devastating fashion, submitting Ben Henderson in the first round of their UFC 164 main event, nearly tearing his arm off in the process (check out full results here). Pettis now has two victories over "Smooth," but the finish in his backyard could be even more satisfying than the flying headkick known as "The Showtime Kick" that we saw in their first fight at WEC 53.
Although Henderson could make a case for the lowliest of positions on the list below by losing to Pettis twice and having to say goodbye to the dream of being the man with the most successful 155-pound title defenses in history, long-term futures are primarily an important component when assembling these groups.
Henderson's overall run in the Octagon, along with his bright future as still one of the best fighters in the world, should not knock the chip off his shoulder just yet.
Unfortunately, in a sport like mixed martial arts (MMA), each bout can only have one winner and one loser. Earning a victory inside the world-famous Octagon is the highest of highs, while suffering a defeat in front of millions of viewers can be the lowest of lows.
Every competitor who steps foot in the eight-walled cage is looking for that moment of glory. Some capture it, others don't.
There were several shining stars on UFC 164, which took place at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., including hometown heroes, returning juggernauts and veterans who have fallen by the wayside. With that said, it's time to name the biggest winner and biggest loser from the event in Milwaukee.
Biggest Winner: Anthony Pettis
"Showtime" may not have landed a highlight reel kick or strike, but he may have done something a little more significant -- he stopped the champion, Henderson, with an armbar in the first round, popping it to prove once again he has Bendo's number for the time being.
Pettis landed some crucial kicks and connected with punches, forcing Henderson to go for the takedown and clinched "Showtime" against the cage to presumably tire him out early ... or avoid the onslaught.
As Pettis caught the champion's arm from the bottom, it all happened too quickly -- Henderson did not appear to tap, but the fight was waved off, with Pettis winning the title in 0:29 seconds short of seeing a second round.
Maybe it is because Pettis won the title in Milwaukee and was on the receiving end of terrible luck since his inclusion in the UFC that makes him the biggest winner. With the fans eating up his every move, Pettis could not have found a better place to win his second major title, being only the second man to win both the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) Lightweight title and the UFC 155-pound title (his victim was the first).
After losing his promotional debut to Clay Guida despite being the last WEC Lightweight champion ever, to having to wait for Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard's trilogy to come to an end, to being ruled out of a superfight with Jose Aldo; Pettis has now overcome the adversity he had to face to get to the place he has always wanted to be -- on top of the world.
Not to mention, he has also beat Henderson twice -- once by a decision that came to the last round and the second time by stoppage. "Showtime" also gets the "Submission of The Night," capping off a glorious evening for the Roufusport camp.
If these two men will have a trilogy fight, there is no question everyone would want to see it -- even if we need to wait a little while for it. For the time being though, it is cloud nine for "Showtime."
Runner Up: Josh Barnett
After all the criticism Barnett had progressing his way this past week leading up to his fight with Frank Mir based on his lack of wins over quality opponents, "The War Master" proved that no matter where he decided to fight over the past 10 years, he is still a deadly Heavyweight who should not be underestimated when he smells blood.
What makes Barnett's win even sweeter? The fact that leading up to his signing with the UFC, he acted as if he did see them as a necessary home and simply looked for the best deal that suited him accordingly.
Now maybe this stoppage was early for some and quite frankly (no pun intended in regard to his opponent), Mir should not be consider that big of a loser because of the controversial fashion in which this fight ended. With that being said, when a fighter goes limp -- even if it is for the smallest fractions of a second -- the fight is over.
It should be, anyway.
Mir may have shot back up immediately, but one figures it would only have gotten worse for the former UFC Heavyweight champion if the referee had not stepped in.
Barnett was not only successful in his return to the Octagon after more than one decade away from the company -- he beat a former champion with over a handful of accolades under his belt -- the most accomplished Heavyweight in UFC history who had the most wins by any in the division who has ever walked into the Octagon, not to mention a three-time "Submission of the Night" winner with the most finishes in heavyweight history.
Also, if mixed martial arts (MMA) math means anything (which it really should not), Barnett was able to stop Mir, who was not able to be stopped by Daniel Cormier, who may have beaten Josh Barnett worse than Frank Mir...maybe that is a fun note more than one that carries any weight yet you can never know how future fights pan out in this sport.
And if we could insert a bit of satire here -- Barnett successfully defended the title he never lost over ten years ago when he beat Randy Couture. Although he did lose the respect from everyone
Biggest Loser: Brandon Vera
Vera looked good. He looked good at the weigh-ins, he looked good before the fight and even during the fight, Vera looked like his return to heavyweight was going to be a promising one. He was not exactly winning the fight but he was doing enough to stay in there and with a decent third round, who knows if he could have done enough to sway the judges.
However maybe it is an unfair assessment based on how Vera's career has turned out but it is unavoidable that all fingers would point to his loss of form over the years. After declaring himself the first man to be light heavyweight and heavyweight champion approximately five years ago, it looks like that would be impossible for "The Truth" to ever accomplish.
Coming off a technical knockout loss at Light Heavyweight to Mauricio Rua in his last fight, which was a year ago, he decided to try his luck at a return to heavyweight against Ben Rothwell last night.
After some promising moments, including the usage of kicks and his ability to take a shot, he eventually suffered the same defeat as Rothwell clocked him in the third round and followed up with some shots until Vera covered up and gave the referee no choice but to intervene.
Vera is now 1-6 in his last seven fights, and if you take out the "No Contest" to Thiago Silva more than two years ago (in which he was cut but brought back due to Silva's failed drug test), "The Truth" has been stopped due to strikes his last three losses.
His future looks quite bleak at the moment. Who is to say if the UFC wants to hold onto him, but he would have to be matched up with lower tier competitors and even at that, would Vera stay at Heavyweight? Is it too much of a risk to take all those punishing shots when thinking of his long-term future?
Vera may be forced to test the waters elsewhere and regain some confidence in smaller promotions. It is a tough pill to swallow but sadly, "The Truth" hurts.
Runner Up: Clay Guida
Guida will always have a job with the UFC. "The Carpenter" is usually one of the most entertaining fighters to watch (despite the criticism he and his coach, Greg Jackson, have faced for his performances against Hatsui Hioki, Maynard and Pettis) and depending on who is he matched up against, it is difficult to shy away from tuning into his bout.
The evolution of Guida may have taken a halt on Saturday night, as he was stopped by punches for the first time in his career and takes a step down the ladder in a whirlwind of a career thus far.
It is too early to see if a move to the Featherweight division hurts Guida more than it benefits him; however "The Carpenter" is now back to square one and the title shot he dreams of is so far away that it begs to raise the question if he will ever get one in his career.
He has been with the UFC for seven years, possesses a promotional record of 10-8 and has lost his three of his past four bouts. Apart from his impressive run in 2010 and 2011 where he won four straight with wins over Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos, Guida has not been able to beat a worthy opponent in almost two years who would eventually get people talking to see him in a title shot.
Unfortunately for "The Carpenter," that has not happened and it seems like time is not on his side either.
For complete UFC 164 results and blow-by-blow coverage of all the night's action click here.