(Photo by Ed Mulholland/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
By George Shunick
The year’s not over, but when it’s said and done, don’t be surprised to see UFC 164 stand atop as the crown jewel of the promotion’s endeavors in 2013. The main card delivered in spades, with four finishes – albeit one controversial one – and one fight of the night which somehow didn’t manage to win the actual Fight of the Night bonus. But the big story last night was the ascension of Anthony Pettis to the lightweight throne. There has not been a dominant champion in the most talented division in MMA since the downfall of BJ Penn at UFC 112. If last night was any indication, Anthony Pettis is going to the answer to the series of frustrating draws and questionable decisions that have plagued the top of the division in Penn’s absence.
In the fight itself, Benson Henderson’s strategy became immediately clear – clinch, clinch, clinch. The majority of the round saw Henderson use his strength to drive Pettis into the fence and keep him there while working short strikes to Pettis’ legs. Henderson also attempted a number of takedowns, all of which were stuffed. When the two finally separated for a period of time, it became evident just why Henderson was so eager to keep the fighting in close. Pettis, fighting out of orthodox stance as a means of opening up the body kicks that come when two fighters square off in opposite stances, proceeded to capitalize on that particular strategy, landing four kicks to the body which clearly discomforted Henderson. Pettis, perhaps a little too pleased with his work, then attempted a cartwheel kick, only to be taken down by Henderson. Working in Pettis’ open guard, Henderson planted his right arm on the mat. Pettis immediately grabbed an overhook and soon after went for the armbar.
Henderson defended well at first, but as Pettis rotated on his back, the pressure increased on Henderson’s elbow to the point where it popped and the champion verbally submitted. Pettis became the second man to submit a champion since BJ Penn did it to Matt Hughes in 2004, and he did it against a man who is exceptionally difficult to finish in under a round. Considering that it was previously believed that his standup was his main weapon, it should go without saying at this point that Pettis is not only one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, he could possibly be the best. A fight with Jose Aldo would go a long way to determine that, but a fight with T.J. Grant wouldn’t hurt either. Now the bad news; Pettis claims his knee popped during the fight. Hopefully it’s minor, but it would be a shame to lose Pettis so soon after such an impressive performance. Meanwhile, once his elbow heals, Henderson will be back. He’s insanely tough, well-rounded, athletic, technical… he’s just a level or two below Anthony Pettis. Maybe everyone else is too.