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History in the Making: Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson send WEC off with a bang

via <a href="">ESPN</a>
via ESPN

Or more appropriately, a "Showtime" kick.

World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) was the UFC's little brother. Not only in terms of the weight classes it promoted -- bantamweight to lightweight -- but also in terms of how popular it was.

It was on the small time Versus network, slotted in between Professional Bull Riding and a show about noodling catfish and its one breakout star -- Urijah Faber -- was a meager 3-3 in his last six fights with the company.

But what they lacked in ... pretty much everything, they made up for in fights. And when you got fights, that's all that really matters.

So when Zuffa -- the parent company of UFC and WEC -- announced the smaller organization was going to be absorbed into MMA's elite promotion, it was bittersweet.

Yes, the fighters that had entertained us for what seemed like peanuts (compared to the million dollar paydays of the Brock Lesnars and Randy Coutures) would finally get the recognition they deserved. But the mere fact that WEC wouldn't be around anymore was enough to draw a tear from even the most hardened MMA fan.

The final fight of WEC 53: "Henderson vs. Pettis" -- the final fight of the promotion itself -- was a lightweight title clash between reigning champion Ben Henderson and innovative striker and reality show subject Anthony Pettis.

For a promotion that very rarely disappointed and almost always managed to light up that part of you that made you fall in love with the sport in the first place, the final fight would have had to have been an instant classic, an incredible display of athleticism mixed with moments that bring you cheering to your feet to not be a letdown.

It was all that. And so much more.

Before tomorrow's (June 4) The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale and his headlining bout opposite Clay Guida, we'll take a look back at Pettis' title bout with Henderson, a fight that was instantly etched into the mind of every fan who watched it.

Henderson. Pettis. The "Showtime Kick."

Need I say more?

Both of these fighters had been in exciting and entertaining fights before. "Smooth's" first bout with Donald Cerrone instantly comes to mind and was voted as "Fight of the Year" by some. 

Pettis' tilt with Shane Roller was a back-and-forth bout that ended in a last-second submission.

So the idea of these two having a great fight at WEC 53 wasn't completely unfounded. There was significant hype going into the bout but the shadow cast by the promotion's last show was enormous. The weight it carried was surely felt by "Smooth" and "Showtime" but both did their best to shrug off the expectations.

The card leading up to the main event was good but it wasn't "WEC good."

A grueling split decision opened for a second round submission but neither fight inspired the same furor that previous WEC cards had. The co-main event was an technically impressive but one-sided bantamweight title defense from Dominick Cruz over Scott Jorgensen.

A solid card, to be sure, but WEC deserved better. For all the joy it brought fight fans, it deserved to go out with something that would be remembered forever.

Enter Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis.

Not only were these two fighting for a title and not only was it on their promotion's last card, but the winner of the fight was next in line to take on the UFC 155-pound champ in a unification bout. It's almost as if the MMA gods smiled down on Glendale, Arizona, that night and said, "Okay, WEC. This night... this ONE night is yours. You deserve it."

Let's break down this classic.

Circling around with "Smooth" taking the center of the cage, the atmosphere is electric. Henderson's hometown crowd is very much in his corner and boos Pettis any chance they get.

Neither fighter overcommits and instead try to find their range to land that perfect strike. Henderson finally rushes forward, lands a kick to the body and clinches his opponent up against the cage.

Knees to the legs serve to soften the legs up and a takedown from "Smooth's" namesake in Dan Henderson gets "Showtime" onto his back.

The Duke Roufus product throws his legs up for a submission attempt but the hometown boy shrugs it off easily. Soon after, the fighters find themselves back on their feet.

A front kick lands onto Henderson's stomach, pushing him back a foot or two. It's Pettis' most significant offense in the round as the champ lands another takedown soon after to end the first.

Seconds into the next round, a punch catches Henderson and drops him to the mat. The challenger teases a rear naked choke but soon relents. Proving why he is the champ, "Smooth" is soon back on his feet, clinching Pettis against the cage and lands knees to the thigh.

Pettis begins to open up more towards the middle of the round so his opponent adapts and shoots in for another takedown. Grinding against the cage once again, "Smooth" is hoping to sap the challenger of much needed energy should this fight go into the championship rounds.

Known for his flashy striking, Pettis leaps into a jumping knee but is caught by Henderson and clinched up momentarily. For the second time in the fight, the challenger is able to counter a head kick with a leg kick. It's a seemingly insignificant but marvelously technical aspect that is often overlooked in fights.

The third round starts and Pettis seems to have renewed vigor. He's pushing the pace more, owning the cage. This newfound pressure earns "Showtime" a takedown and he quickly takes his opponent's back. Henderson finds his way to his feet but Pettis refuses to let go. 

Latched on the champion's back, he begins to land punches to the ribs that land with a thud. A few of those and then a few shots to the head and Henderson is trying to shake the challenger off. Carrying the probably 165-pound Pettis on his back for minutes is surely wearing down the stamina.

He begins to elbow Pettis' thigh but a rear naked choke attempt forces him to defend until the round ends.

The championship rounds begin with the momentum in Pettis' favor. Wanting to remove that from his grasp, "Smooth" begins to open up and lands a perfect body kick.

He shoots in but Pettis defends and tries to sink in a choke with a gator roll. The champion pops his head out and immediately goes on the offensive.

"Smooth" ends up with the challenger's back and slips his forearm underneath Pettis' chin. Somehow "Showtime" is able to get his neck free but still finds himself with the champion on his back.

He explodes over and lands in Henderson's guard. In a split second, he has the champion's back! It's simply unbelievable back and forth action.

Back on their feet and Pettis continues to stalk his opponent. A left hook connects and Henderson shoots in for a takedown. "Showtime" goes for a guillotine choke but finds nothing before the round ends.

Going into the fifth and final round, the crowd is cheering wildly. We've had 20 minutes of amazing action and both combatants are eager for the last five.

This... this is how the WEC deserved to go out.

The fighters are circling and circling. With so much at stake, making a crucial mistake could mean the end. An inadvertent low blow leads to a short stoppage.

Immediately after, Pettis is able to counter the champ and it snaps Henderson's head back. Pettis begins to to shuck and jive, playing mind games with the champion.

One instant causes "Smooth" to lose his footing and the challenger takes his back but quickly hops off, realizing his options are more plentiful on his feet.

Henderson shoots in and "Showtime" tries to time a knee but doesn't land cleanly and the champ is able to secure the takedown. The champ soon takes the back of his opponent but just as quickly is reversed by Pettis.

Pettis then gets back to his feet hoping to score more points in the stand-up as the seconds tick down.

There are 24 minutes down with one left to go. The scores could go either way. With seconds left and Henderson circling away, Pettis -- in a move that mixes martial arts with rainbow magic -- leaps against the cage, bounces off, and swings his leg around, smacking Henderson in the jaw.


(.gif via

MMA website play-by-plays, Twitter, text messages - any kind of mass communication outlet is immediately flush with exclamations of complete shock and utter joy.

It doesn't connect perfectly -- it's most all foot -- but the impact is enough to knock "Smooth" off his feet. From there, Pettis delivers ground and pound until the final horn sounds and everyone's heart is allowed time to begin beating at a normal pace.

One judge had Pettis winning four rounds to one but the other two had it coming down to the final round. Without the once in a lifetime kick, the round could have easily gone to the champ.

Putting that kick into words is a task that likely fails me. It's a jump up from your seat moment where the closest exclamation to the tip of your tongue escapes your mouth, no matter how sensical it is.

There's a lot in this sport that can make a fan unhappy: awful judging, bad contracts and an undertone of intolerance are just a number of those issues.

But in moments like this -- like the "Showtime Kick" -- we can forget for a second about all the things wrong with MMA and remember what is so right about it.

In the end, WEC closed up shop in the same fashion that it lived: Entertaining, fun, energetic, and wildly unexpected.

Thank you Ben Henderson and thank you Anthony Pettis.

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