Photo by Scott Petersen via MMA Weekly
Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson put on a brilliant back-and-forth war to end the WEC but Pettis poured it on in the fifth round to take a unanimous decision win.
The fight had it all, great striking exchanges, flashy kicks, and multiple submission attempts by both men that were razor close to finishing the fight.
Pettis has been promised an immediate shot at the UFC title against the winner of UFC 125's Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard title fight.
Henderson took center cage to start the fight after Pettis refused to touch gloves to start the fight. Henderson landed the first blow with a jumping switch kick to the body. Pettis answered in kind. Henderson charged forward behind a combination and forced Pettis against the fence. Pettis mock yawned just before Henderson put him on his back. Pettis immediately sat up against the cage but Henderson forced him down. Pettis threw up his hips to attack the champ's arms and then kicked Henderson off. Pettis landed a front kick then Henderson caught him with a punch and shot in to take down Pettis. Henderson was landing some punches from the top as the bell rang.
Pettis came out aggressive in the second but Henderson landed first with a leg kick. Pettis answered in kind then tripped up Henderson by stepping on his foot and made contact with a right hand that dropped the champ. Henderson shot in for a desperation single leg. Pettis threatened with a kimura but Henderson gumbied out of it. After some inconclusive exchanges on the feet, Henderson closed and forced a clinch. Pettis got free and began chasing the champ. Henderson landed body kick. Then Pettis went for a flying knee that let Henderson clinch up and land a knee to the body. Henderson took a low blow and a short break. They traded kicks on the return.
More kick trading to start the third as Pettis stalked and Henderson backed away. Pettis took the champ down when Henderson charged in. Pettis quickly got full mount and then took Henderson's mount. Henderson stood, but Pettis cradled his leg to stay on the back. Then Pettis switched to a body triangle and clung to the champ's back. Pettis landed body shots and uppercuts to the face but Henderson controlled his right wrist, preventing a submission. Henderson began furiously elbowing Pettis' thigh but that created an opening for Pettis to attack his neck. Henderson broke free with seconds left. Close escape for the champ.
They traded hard to open the fourth. Henderson landed a brutal body kick. Henderson charged forward with a combination and shot for a single but Pettis caught him with a guillotine. But Henderson spun out and moments later he took Pettis' back and attacked Pettis' throat. Henderson applied the figure four body lock and nearly had the rear naked choke. Somehow Pettis fought off the choke and began to roll. Pettis maintained wrist control as he fought for his figurative life. He broke the body triangle and reversed Henderson. Then he quickly passed to side control and took the champ's back in a dazzling sequence. Henderson quickly stood back up. More standing exchanges with Henderson landing a hard kick and later a knee to Pettis' guts. Pettis came forward behind a combination and Henderson dropped for a shot. Pettis went for a guillotine but Henderson got free of his full guard but didn't free his neck. The round ended with Pettis fruitlessly working the choke.
They entered the final round with the score cards likely being tied at two rounds a piece. Henderson took a hard shot to the jewels early that forced a break. Henderson landed two hard body kicks but Pettis answered with a hard straight punch. Pettis came forward behind a stiff jab. Henderson stippled and Pettis took his back. But the champ slipped him right off. Henderson shot in and Pettis landed a knee with perfect timing. Henderson hung on and got the take down. Pettis rolled and Henderson took his back when Pettis suddenly escaped. He briefly had the champ's back, landing hard shots. Pettis then ran up the wall and landed a high kick on a retreating Ben Henderson and dropped him. Pettis went for the kill as a stunned Henderson fought desperately. Henderson charged forward at the end and ate another knee to the face.
Stakes were high for this fight with a crack at the UFC lightweight champion on tap for the winner. The second half of the matchup will be determined when UFC champ Frankie Edgar defends his title against Gray Maynard at UFC 125.
Henderson took the WEC interim lightweight title by beating Donald Cerrone at WEC 43 while champ Jamie Varner was out injured. When Varner returned, Henderson beat him at WEC 46 in January to unify the title and then defended against Cerrone at WEC 48.
Pettis earned the title shot by beating Shane Roller at WEC 50 to cap a three fight losing streak. He came into the fight at 12-1.