It was just after his morning run that Ben Henderson came back, grabbed his phone, and saw that he had 20-plus missed calls and a slew of text messages awaiting him. Knowing that something big must have happened, Henderson read through everything and realized that not only was the WEC being absorbed into the UFC, but the winner of his upcoming fight against Anthony Pettis would then step into a fight for the UFC lightweight title in his first fight with the promotion.
Henderson didn’t immediately celebrate because he knew that to get to the UFC title shot, he first had to defeat Pettis and defend his WEC gold one last time. He did however share the news with his mother, and then got back to work in the gym to prepare for the showdown he’ll have with Pettis this Thursday night in Phoenix.
There has been pressure on Henderson in almost all of his recent fights, especially since he became the WEC champion, and while this new catch is something different all together, it’s nothing he can’t deal with.
“Really at some point in every fighter’s career, every fight at some point in someone’s career is a huge fight, a big deal, an all consuming thought in their head, a defining moment in their career, their defining moment,” said Henderson when appearing on MMAWeekly Radio. “I’ve had that for the past three or four fights in a row for me, and my next five, six, seven fights will all be like that. They’ll all be huge big deal fights where it’s make or break, and everything’s on the line for me. That’s just how it’s going to be for me for a while.”
Dealing with the fact that not only is his WEC belt on the line, but also a shot at the UFC lightweight title doesn’t rattle the Washington native. Henderson understands that if he puts in the hard work and dedication, it will pay off in the cage when he squares off with Pettis.
Henderson is happy to finally get the chance to fight the best lightweights in the UFC and answer the question of how he would do against them, but nothing is guaranteed until he gets past Thursday’s fight at WEC 53.
“First things first, I have to take care of business with Anthony Pettis,” Henderson commented. “Other than that, I’m stoked to get a chance to go in there and freaking answer some questions. There’s always questions and everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and everybody has questions… I’m excited to answer them.”
He will first try to answer the problems that Anthony Pettis presents to him. Training under coach Duke Roufus, Pettis has always been known for his striking acumen, but over his last few fights he’s shown some new tricks.
After knocking out Danny Castillo with a head kick, he displayed his submission skills by putting away Alex Karalexis by triangle choke, and then utilized his much improved takedown defense against NCAA All-American wrestler Shane Roller. The WEC champion has been impressed by Pettis’ ever-evolving game, and admits it’s nice to see some of his tricks prior to their match-up.
“It was cool actually seeing his improvement and the takedown defense. It was good seeing that and knowing for sure. I already assumed he’d be working on his takedown defense, but to see it is a big statement he made,” said Henderson.
Henderson doesn’t want anything less than to face the best opponents in the world, and whether that’s in the UFC against Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard or for one last trip in the WEC against Anthony Pettis. He knows Pettis presents a real danger to him and his title, and that’s what gets him the most excited about the fight.
“One of his biggest attributes is that he’s evolving as a fighter. He’s tough everywhere, and he gets better every time,” said Henderson. “He improves his stand-up, he’s unpredictable, and his wrestling and takedown defense is drastically improved. You’ve got to like that in somebody.”
Henderson smiles though knowing that he’s still evolving himself. From day one in the WEC, he’s continued to grow and he’s kept a few tricks up his sleeve as well. He might even show a few to Anthony Pettis come Thursday night.