The WEC goes out with a bang tonight at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona with its final offering before merging with the UFC next month. WEC 53: Henderson vs. Pettis is sure to be an exciting card as the organization showcases some of the best fighters in its ranks: “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone (11-4) takes on “The Polish Hammer” Chris Horodecki (16-4), WEC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz (15-1) squares off with “Young Guns” Scott Jorgensen (10-2) to not only retain his title but also become the first ever UFC Bantamweight Champion, “Prince of Persia” Kamal Shalorus (6-0-2) faces “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski (34-14), and “The Mongolian Wolf” Zhang Tie Quan (8-0) meets with “Danny Boy” Dan Downes (6-1). In what is sure to be a crowd pleaser, the main event features “Smooth” Ben Henderson (11-1) making his third lightweight title defense by facing dangerous top contender “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (12-1). After tonight, either Henderson or Pettis will walk away as the very last WEC Lightweight Champion and will take on the winner of the UFC 125 “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1)/”The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-0) match-up for the unified lightweight title.
At First Glance: Ben Henderson has shown fans that he is truly the deserving WEC Lightweight Champion after successfully defending his belt twice by submitting both Jamie Varner (16-5-1) and Donald Cerrone; he also defeated Cerrone via Unanimous Decision in October 2009 to win the interim lightweight championship. Furthermore, “Smooth” holds an impressive unbeaten streak since his debut in the promotion at WEC 38 in January 2009. Though Henderson has undoubtedly put on one impressive performance after another and has the title belt and perfect WEC record to prove it, Anthony Pettis shouldn’t be counted out just yet. “Showtime” has immaculate striking capabilities in combination with a superb submission game. These attributes will make him a formidable match-up for Henderson as both fighters plan to show off their skill set, especially as they try to establish dominant positions in the 155lb. division as the WEC/UFC merger draws near.
In Depth: Henderson possesses equal if not greater submission skills than Pettis and while “Showtime” trumps Henderson in regard to striking, he tends to take a lot of risks with it by throwing out flashy moves like flying knees and spinning kicks that may leave him vulnerable to Henderson’s other specialty: takedowns. With Henderson’s improvements in the striking arena, he can set up his takedowns better than ever. In this fight, Pettis’ gambling habit will have the fight hitting the mat in short order. Expect a great chess match between these two combatants as each jockeys for position and submissions while landing a few eye closing strikes as the fight wears on. Henderson has the better wrestling of the two, so Pettis will likely be on his back for most of the fight if not all of it. “Showtime” isn’t helpless in this position though and Henderson will have to be wary of the incredibly slick Triangle Choke that Pettis reserves for the right moment. “Smooth” has stellar submission defense and will likely avoid any attempts by Pettis to finish the fight from his back, but it wouldn’t pay to get cocky in the later rounds. The bottom is a bad place to be with Ben Henderson pummeling down fist after fist to his opponent’s skull, and few will envy Pettis if or when he is in this position. Henderson’s striking skills from the top inevitably set up a deadly Guillotine Choke that he used to win the championship belt in January, and will help him keep it out of Anthony Pettis’ reach when the two meet this evening.
The Wild Card: With Henderson appearing to hold all the high cards in the deck, Pettis does have an ace up his sleeve – his superior striking and puncher’s chance. Should Henderson get caught with a heavy hand or knee from Pettis the result we be a stunning knockout upset win for “Showtime”. Pettis harnesses more power in his strikes than is typical of lightweights and has the killer instinct to prevent his opponents from recovering when he gets them on the ropes. The likelihood of the champion being rocked by Pettis’ striking is relatively slim mainly because of his excellent footwork – however it only takes good shot from a striker like “Showtime” to end a fight.
The Verdict: Although tonight Pettis undoubtedly will bring his superior stand-up and boundless determination to become a world champion, it won’t be quite enough to dethrone Henderson. The champ likely will take Pettis to the ground repeatedly and beat on him until Pettis slips up and leaves himself vulnerable to Henderson’s submission specialties. “Smooth” would then lock his arms around his opponent’s neck and not let go until the referee steps in. Henderson via Submission (Guillotine Choke), Round 2