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History in the making: Anthony Pettis finishes what he started at WEC 53

"It's an amazing story. If you look at it, Henderson has fought every nasty, tough guy at 155 pounds. This guy comes out and destroys Ben Henderson. Even before the armbar, those four kicks to the body hurt him bad. Anthony Pettis came out mean, nasty, and ready ... that kid is on another level. I'm blown away by his performance." -- UFC President Dana White

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't supposed to be this easy.

After Ben Henderson was victimized by the "Showtime Kick" and coughed up his 155-pound title to Anthony Pettis at WEC 53 in late 2010, something unexpected happened.

He got angry.

In fact, Henderson would tell reporters several years later that coming up short against Pettis was the catalyst to one of the most impressive runs in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight division.

"Smooth" rolled over seven-straight opponents, and ripped the strap from the waist of Frankie Edgar.

He was so dominant, in fact, there was not-so-unrealistic talk of moving up to 170 pounds to challenge then-welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre. He had a little help from Clay Guida, who bounced the oft-injured "Showtime" from the lightweight title chase with a dump-and-hump strategy in mid 2011.

Undeterred, Pettis -- the last man to wear the WEC lightweight crown -- battled back to claim three straight victories. Outpointing Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136 was not the cake walk he probably expected it to be, but the Milwaukee native made Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone look like two scrubs they yanked from the stands on short notice.

Henderson was cleaning out the division, while Pettis was cleaning clocks.

As expected, it was only a matter of time before they circled back around and found themselves facing off for the second time under the ZUFFA banner. Not only would Henderson repeat his role as champion, he would once again do it as the odds-on favorite, this time for the UFC 164 pay-per-view (PPV) main event on Aug. 31, 2013.

Here's what happened.

No gloves will be touched in their second go-round and Henderson lumbers forward, doubling-up the jab. Pettis fires back from his heels and the champion instinctively shoots. The challenger is pressed into the cage as the "Brew City" bystanders erupt into chants of "Let's go Pettis!"

"Showtime" shucks off a few takedown attempts and gets back to the center of the cage, but it's mere seconds before Henderson -- a two-time NAIA collegiate All-American wrestler-- drives him back into the fence for more binding and grinding.

With two minutes left in the opening frame, Pettis is being out-struck 27-4.

The challenger breaks free for a third time and perhaps feeling a bit more urgency, uncorks four consecutive body kicks that stagger the champion. Pettis tries to get flashy with a jumping foot to the dome, but Henderson ties him up and dumps him on the floor, working from guard.

Seconds later, Henderson -- just one month removed from winning a pair of gold medals as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt -- is caught in a fight-ending armbar, and taps out before the crowd even realizes the promotion is crowning a new lightweight champion.

Pettis barely broke a sweat.

Unfortunately, the belt would not be defended for over a year, thanks to a nasty knee injury that required surgery. Once "Showtime" was up and running, the promotion booked him to coach season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), opposite former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.

"El Nino" is already up one-zip.

Fists will fly with the strap on the line this Saturday night (Dec. 6, 2014), as Pettis and Melendez get it done in the UFC 181 PPV co-main event inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The champion is a -250 favorite and will be defending his title for the first time.

And the last?

We'll find out in less than a week.

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