When World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) stormed the San Diego Sports Arena back on January 25, 2009, Ben Henderson was not considered the best lightweight mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in the world. Heck, he wasn't even considered the top 155-pound competitor in WEC.
That honor belonged to Jamie Varner.
"C-4," undefeated since transitioning over from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), was putting his division title on the line against bitter rival Donald Cerrone in the headlining bout of WEC 38 on Versus. After a controversial technical split decision -- stemming from an unintentional foul -- "Cowboy" went home the loser.
With all the hullabaloo from their championship affair, it's easy to see why most fans (and pundits) paid little attention to Henderson's untelevised debut, a second-round submission win over fellow WEC debutant Anthony Njokuani. "Smooth" dominated the opening frame with his aggressive wrestling-based attack, and needed just 42 seconds to seal the deal in the second stanza.
Welcome to the big leagues.
While a fighter of Henderson's talent would have surely made it to the promised land eventually, his WEC debut almost never happened. Njokuani was originally paired off against Ed Ratcliff; however, "9mm" was forced to withdraw due to an undisclosed injury.
The promotion had just over a week to find a replacement.
Fortunately for WEC matchmakers, Henderson was already in camp. "Smooth" was expected to get rough on The Evolution of Mixed Martial Arts (EVO MMA) event scheduled for Jan. 24 at the Celebrity Theatre in his backyard of Phoenix, Arizona.
When that card was postponed, Henderson become eligible to compete for WEC.
The timing couldn't have been better. His ability to capitalize on the short-notice opportunity earned him two more fights in 2009, which resulted in key wins over Shane Roller (technical knockout) and the aforementioned Cerrone (unanimous decision).
Thank goodness he was able to shed that last half-a-pound.
Then, less than a year after his debut, Henderson would submit Varner to capture the 155-pound crown. After replicating that performance in a "Cowboy" rematch, "Smooth" would fall to Anthony Pettis at WEC 53, the final event before the promotion was absorbed by UFC.
Henderson would roar back to win his next seven fights, including a lightweight championship victory over Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan. To date, no other 155-pounder has been able to stop his reign of terror, so it would be only be fitting to see him rematch Pettis for the division strap.
And get revenge for the "Showtime Kick."
Pettis, meanwhile, will try to make history repeat itself in the main event of UFC 164, which takes place on Aug. 31, 2013 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For more on their upcoming pay-per-view (PPV) rematch, as well as a closer look at the rise of "Showtime," click here and here.