UFC 164 Faceoff: Pettis vs. Henderson

FIGHT!‘s “Alright Guy” Duane Finley goes toe-to-toe with FIGHT!‘s “Canadian Guy” E. Spencer Kyte in a UFC 164 Faceoff. For this installment, Finley and Kyte take on the UFC Lightweight Title fight between Anthony Pettis and Champion Benson Henderson.

The Case for Anthony Pettis (Duane Finley, 0-3)

Thus far in our series, I am getting roughed up by my Canadian counterpart. Not since Georges St-Pierre exacted his vengeance against Matt Serra in their rematch in Montreal has a Canadian flogged an American so mercilessly.

That being said, this business is about to change on Saturday night.

Nearly three years have passed since WEC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis came over from the WEC. In a strange twist of fate, “Showtime” will square-off with the same man he took the WEC title from—current UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson.

Since their meeting at WEC 53 in December 2010, the two fighters have traveled much different paths. Henderson hit the UFC fold like a man possessed, eventually claiming championship gold, while Pettis has battled injuries and setbacks as he’s worked his way up the ladder.

Due to the amount of hype and expectation Pettis has garnered, every step of his journey is more dramatic than the last, and there will be no step more important than his rematch with Henderson. Pettis will not only get his first crack at UFC gold on Saturday night, but it will come in his hometown, under the bright lights of the Bradley Center.

For a man with the nickname “Showtime,” this is the ideal setting for the most important fight of his career.

As far as the action inside the cage goes, Pettis’ unpredictable nature will once again be crucial in the matchup against Henderson. In the first fight, “Smooth” was able to put Pettis on his back, and while I don’t see the current No. 1 contender stopping every takedown attempt, I do believe he will have much more success than the first go-around.

With Henderson’s machine-like cardio, stopping his takedowns won’t tire him out, but it will keep the fight standing, which is exactly where Pettis needs it to be. Pettis is at his best when he can dictate range and keep the opposition on the outside, and that is where I believe he will do the bulk of his damage on Saturday night. Henderson will have the advantage in the opening round, but Pettis will find his groove in the second, third, and fourth. Just like their first meeting, the championship tilt in Milwaukee will go to the judge’s scorecards, and Pettis will get the nod.

A new champion will be crowned, and my atrocious losing streak will come to an end at UFC 164.

The Case for Benson Henderson (E. Spencer Kyte, 3-0)

I have to commend my friend from the great state of Indiana—he’s already dropped three straight fights, and here he is picking against the reigning, defending, UFC Lightweight Champion. That’s brash…except not really, since most of Henderson’s championship fights have hinged on the scoring of a single round.

I actually expect that to change in Milwaukee on Saturday night. Yeah, you heard me. I think Henderson comes to Pettis’ town and earns a “there is nothing to debate here” victory over “Showtime,” avenging his earlier loss in the WEC and establishing himself as the undisputed “Lord of the Lightweights” in the UFC.

Of the two, Henderson is the one who has improved the most since their first encounter, turning up his intensity and getting rid of the “He looks so happy to be in there” grin that used to dominate his earlier fights. His striking has improved to the point that he’s edged out both Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez on their feet, and his wrestling game and conditioning have never been in question.

I really don’t understand why Henderson didn’t turn their initial meeting into a grind, but I have a feeling that’s what we’ll see from him this time. There is no need for him to stand and exchange with Pettis, who is the more explosive, more creative striker. Force the challenger to prove he can defend the takedown, and then force him to defend as much as possible. As much as I’m certain Pettis has worked to shore up his wrestling with Ben Askren over the last couple of years, it’s still his weakest area, and you have to attack your opponent’s weakest area.

Here’s the other thing: the fight at WEC 53 was super-close, right up until the moment Pettis landed “The Showtime Kick.” Another way of putting it is that Pettis needed to land the craziest move in the history of high-level MMA to beat Henderson the first time, and the chances of him delivering an encore here are slim and none. Could he land something else that is utterly ridiculous? Maybe, but I don’t think Henderson will give him the chance. I fully anticipate “Smooth” to come out quick, cutoff the cage, and force Pettis to wrestle as much as possible.

Over the course of 25 minutes, I don’t see Pettis being able to repeatedly keep things standing, and when it hits the canvas, Henderson has the edge. My prediction is a 49-46 unanimous decision win for the Champion, and a fourth consecutive victory for the kid from Canada in FIGHT! Faceoff #4.

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