Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010 | 9:11 p.m.
Anthony Pettis made sure the WEC went out in style.
The 23-year-old lightweight pulled off one of the most memorable strikes in mixed martial arts history during the final round of his championship fight against Ben Henderson Thursday at WEC 53 in Phoenix, Ariz.
In the final minute of the last-ever WEC fight, Pettis used the cage to leap into the air and landed a right head kick that dropped Henderson to the ground.
Henderson survived the round but ended up losing the fight, as all three judges awarded the contest to Pettis by scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46.
The win makes Pettis (13-1) the last 155-pound champion in WEC history. It also makes him the No. 1 contender in the lightweight division when the WEC merges with the UFC in early 2011.
“I got ten more of those kicks coming in the UFC,” said Pettis. “How’d you like that to end the WEC?”
It was Henderson’s (12-2) first and only loss in the WEC. The former champ had won all five of his WEC bouts prior to Thursday, finishing four of them.
Henderson used his wrestling to dictate the action in the first round but Pettis came back aggressively in the next two, taking Henderson’s back for the better part of the third.
Henderson rebounded in the fourth, using his takedowns again and nearly finishing the fight with a rear-naked choke midway through.
That set the stage for a blockbuster final round and Pettis’s amazing finish.
“Pettis did a good job,” Henderson said. “The judges gave it to him. He did a good job.”
Pettis will now face the winner of a UFC lightweight title fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. That fight is scheduled for UFC 125 on Jan. 1.
In the co-main event, Dominick Cruz (17-1) became the first UFC bantamweight champion after dominating Scott Jorgensen (11-4) in a unanimous decision win.
Although many expected a close fight, Cruz thoroughly outclassed Jorgensen with his speed and unorthodox style, winning by unanimous scores of 50-45.
Following the win, Cruz credited his performance to conditioning and added he entered the cage with the goal of proving any of his doubters wrong.
“My conditioning was top notch,” Cruz said. “I felt I had a chip on my shoulder because a lot of people didn’t believe in me. I think they can believe it now.”
Cruz’s only loss came in March 2007 against rival Urijah Faber. Before leaving the cage Thursday, Cruz said he’d accept a rematch of that bout in Faber’s hometown of Sacramento, Calif.