Benson Henderson’s run of decision victories in UFC lightweight title defenses came to an end on Saturday night. Unfortunately for him, that streak ended with a first round submission loss to Anthony Pettis.
As soon as referee Herb Dean gave the signal to start the fight Henderson began to push the action, looking for a takedown. When those takedown attempts failed, Henderson pushed Pettis against the cage, forcing Pettis to carry his weight while also looking to weaken Pettis’ legs with strikes. Pettis did his best to break free, briefly succeeding on a few occasions, only to have the champion force him back to the fence.
With two minutes left in the round, Pettis succeeded in spinning out of Henderson’s grasp. Pettis, knowing that he couldn’t let Henderson force him back to the cage again, upped his offense, landing four strong kicks to the body of Henderson. When Pettis attempted a fifth kick, Henderson caught Pettis’ leg and threw him to his back.
During his interview on the Fox Sports post-fight show, Pettis revealed that those kicks, as well as allowing Henderson to force him to the cage early, were all part of his team’s plan going into the fight, “I knew Benson would shoot for the takedowns. I was working on my strikes and landing some kicks and I knew it would tire him out. The biggest thing was to not kick until we were comfortable with my takedown defense. I showed him like I was going over the top but I went up the center and hit him, and I saw his face change, and I just went from there.”
The champion then found himself in Pettis’ guard. Pettis wasted little time looking for a submission, quickly finding an opening for an armbar. Henderson did his best to fight the technique, but his defense was futile, and he was forced to verbally submit to the hold.
Pettis described the submission after the fight, “I was surprised myself that he tapped. The first time we fought I got him in a kimura and put his arm behind his head and he didn’t tap out. I heard him say ‘tap’ and I felt his elbow pop, so I let him go.”
The first time these two fighters met, at WEC 53 Pettis wrested the WEC lightweight title from Henderson with a five-round unanimous decision victory. Saturday’s victory, which gave Pettis the UFC lightweight title was much more swift, taking less than five minutes.
However, the win came at a cost.
At the post-fight press conference Pettis limped to the dais and revealed that he had sustained an injury sometime during the brief fight, “I checked a kick and I didn’t get my leg high enough so it hit me right in the knee. I felt it move back and forth a little bit. I’ll get it checked out, I’m not sure what happened.”
Once that knee is looked at the UFC can begin thinking about whom Pettis will face in his first defense of his lightweight title. If it’s up to the new champion, that fight will be a champion versus champion bout.
During his in cage interview with Joe Rogan, the freshly crowned champion looked into the camera and said, “Jose Aldo we got some unfinished business, my belt against your belt.” Aldo, the current UFC featherweight champion had been booked to fight Pettis on August 3. That fight was cancelled when Pettis was injured while training with UFC light heavyweight Phil Davis.
With the lightweight and featherweight divisions crowded with solid contenders it’s very unlikely that the UFC will grant Pettis his wish, but you never know. The promotion has been looking to present a superfight for some time, so never say never.