Anthony Pettis punches Benson Henderson while mounting his back in the WEC 53 main event lightweight title showdown. Photo by Scott Petersen, MMAWeekly.com.
At the end of four rounds of action, WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson and #1 contender Anthony Pettis had produced what many fans were calling the fight of the year. The back-and-forth war that was taking place inside the cage at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona was an edge-of-your-seat roller coaster ride that epitomized what the WEC brought to the landscape of mixed martial arts. While casual fans often ignored the lighter weight classes, whether it be due to disinterest in names they didn't recognize or simply because they didn't know about the promotion, the fans who did watch the WEC's final event were treated to one of the most spectacular fights in mixed martial arts history.
It wasn't historic in the fact that it was one of the best fights this year. No, it was history in the making because it was the final bout under the World Extreme CageFighting banner, an umbrella that had stayed open for roughly nine years and helped further the careers for some of the best fighters in the world. After a long, lengthy run as one of the premier promotions in the world that produced immense love for the lighter weight classes, it all came to an end on Thursday night. But even on the dawn of its demise, the WEC wouldn't go out without reminding everyone exactly why it was so beloved by the fans who supported it.
After two minutes of action into the final round, it was clear that Pettis was getting the better of Henderson, and a few stiff jabs in succession with a glancing knee secured a takedown that eventually swayed the fight into Pettis' hands undoubtedly. Henderson's late takedown gave little hope, but this is mixed martial arts -- a sport that has a high unpredictability rate when it comes to judging. Just when it looked like the fight would go down to the wire with out any other major exchanges, Pettis dashed at Henderson, catapulted himself off of the cage, and landed one of the most spectacular flying kicks we've ever seen in the history of the sport. The kick downed Henderson immediately, but his survivability kept him in the conscious world, barely allowing him to make it to the final bell.
Among the general population of the world, this is a mere highlight on ESPN's top ten list, but in our world of mixed martial arts -- this is one of those moments in which you might ask fans years from now where they were when the WEC went out guns blasting. Anthony Pettis, a youthful 23 year old fighter with an inspiring story of overcoming the odds, showed every mixed martial arts fan exactly what the WEC represented in our lives, and Ben Henderson provided the challenge of a lifetime to make that happen.
It's tough to liken this card to a hero dying in a blaze of glory as the WEC is merging with the UFC, but it seems fitting. The WEC acted as if it were being pushed into a corner and needed to do something drastic to survive, and in that moment of decision... decided it wasn't going down without a fight. The fight it brought was one of the most gratifying performances we've seen in a long time. And it's a moment in mixed martial arts history that we will remember forever.