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UFC 164:

In their words: Reflecting on Henderson vs. Pettis 1, WEC 53 and the kick

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Associated Press

Benson Henderson, left, throws an elbow at Gilbert Melendez during the fourth round of a UFC lightweight championship mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. Henderson won by split decision to retain the championship. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

If the second fight between lightweights Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis proves half as memorable as the first, then fans who catch Saturday’s UFC 164 from Milwaukee are in for a treat.

In their first fight, Henderson and Pettis bid adieu to the World Extreme Cagefighting in grand fashion, engaging in what WEC founder and then-general manager Reed Harris called “one of the company’s greatest fights” for the lightweight title in December 2010.

It was also the promotion’s last, as WEC merged with the UFC following Pettis’ unanimous-decision victory, an upset, in Henderson’s hometown of Phoenix at WEC 53.

Although it’s now most remembered for the "Showtime Kick" Pettis landed to ensure the victory, the entire bout and fight card have secured their place in mixed martial arts lore less than three years later.

Read below to find out how Pettis, Henderson and Harris — now the UFC's vice president of community relations — reflect on the event, the fight and, of course, the kick heading into the rematch for the UFC lightweight championship.

AMP Energy Hometown Takedown

Harris: There was sadness and an anxiety with it being the last event, but it was kind of like when one of your kids gets married. It opens another avenue for you and them, so that’s how I looked at it.

We had a promotion with one of our sponsors (Amp Energy Hometown Takedown) where Phoenix won hosting the event with a vote. We knew it would be a great fight with both guys being very talented, but it was also the fact that it was Henderson’s hometown that landed that fight for the last card.

Henderson: A lot of my friends, my gym pushed pretty hard to make sure Phoenix won it. The UFC didn’t give Phoenix a whole lot of things. Phoenix went out and won it. That’s a lot of what I remember from that time period was how many crazy people, crazy fans wanted a Zuffa event here in Phoenix.

Pettis: I was going into his hometown with the shot to fight the UFC champion, so there was a lot to think about. I was nervous, man. One of the scariest feelings I remember was landing in Phoenix three or four days before. I was like, "This is it. I’m here. The next 25 minutes of me fighting are going to decide the future of my career."

Click to enlarge photo

WEC general manager Reed Harris during the recent WEC weigh-ins at the Palms Resort and Casino.

Harris: It was a great week leading up to the fight. There was a big Ben Henderson day where the mayor gave him the key to the city.

I got the sense it was going to be a very competitive fight because I saw both guys and they swore they were going to kick the other’s ass. That happens a lot, but I just knew Henderson was going to bring it and this was Pettis’ big chance.

Pettis: I had only been in the WEC for a year and a half and I was fighting for the title. It all happened so quick that I guess I had nothing to lose. I was a pretty big underdog like in all of my fights before that, which I embraced pretty well. I heard everyone saying, ‘Ben Henderson looks amazing. Ben Henderson is unstoppable. Anthony Pettis won’t able to defend his takedowns.’ So the nerves were there.

Harris: Being there, it was a surreal night. The crowd was excited. I had my family there, a lot of friends and the whole team we worked with at the WEC. We were celebrating all that we had done. We had planned that thing out pretty well, and it was already a great night with great fights before the main event.

Pettis: I remember getting in the locker room and feeling very calm. I felt very prepared and, when you feel prepared, you feel confident. I knew I had done everything I could do to get ready for that fight.

Henderson: The whole fight was pretty close. I think on all the judges’ scorecards, it was tied 2-2 going into the fifth round (Note: Two of the three judges had the fight even while one gave three of the first four rounds to Pettis.) It was a super-close fight when it came down to it.

Harris: I thought it was even after four rounds, but I wasn’t sure. It was just so close.

Pettis: I went back to my corner before the fifth round and I thought we had two more to go. I asked (coach) Duke (Roufus), "What round is this?" When he said fifth, I asked him if it was really the last round. He told me, "Yeah, man, get after it." He didn’t really say anything, didn’t tell me if I was up or down. And I like that. I don’t want him to tell me if I’m winning this fight for sure or losing this fight for sure because that plays with your confidence. He just told me to get after it and let loose, so that’s exactly what I did.

Showtime Kick

Pettis: I think I was winning the whole fifth round, so I don’t give too much credit to the kick. It just put a stamp on how I won that fight. Honestly, my mind and body just went on autopilot. I don’t remember jumping off of the cage or anything like that. It was just an instinctive moment and I’m glad it turned out the way it did.

Harris: I didn’t have a very good angle and I literally said, "What the (expletive) just happened?" All I saw was Anthony jumping and Ben hitting the canvas. Everyone was standing up, so I knew it was a special moment. But I didn’t know exactly what happened until the replay. I didn’t think he jumped off the cage. I just figured it was a flying kick. When I finally saw it, I went, “Oh, my God.”

Henderson: That’s the way life goes. You prepare yourself, get ready — have months and weeks and years to get ready and for what? For one moment. Hopefully you don’t falter during that moment.

Anthony let it all out and landed a pretty cool kick.

Pettis: I wasn’t confident going to the decision. It was his hometown and a close fight. I thought I pulled it off, but you never know what the judges are basing it off of.

Harris: I thought Benson may have given Anthony the fight with the kick, but I didn’t know. That’s how close it was. One move doesn’t make a fight or win a round so I wasn’t sure.

Pettis: When my name was called, my heart dropped. I remember thinking, "What an accomplishment. This is what I set out to do."

Henderson: In my head, I knew we’d be facing off at some point and time again.

Pettis: That wasn’t in my head. I didn’t close that door, but it wasn’t until he got the belt that the thought popped up. When he was winning and doing what he was doing in the UFC, that’s when I was like, "Yep I’m coming for you again."

Harris: I’m pleasantly surprised with how well they’ve done in the UFC. I thought they’d be able to hold their own, but for Ben to hold the title and defend it against some of the best guys in the world and seeing what Pettis did his last time out against Cerrone, they’re just getting better and better.

Pettis: I’ve seen the kick a million times. I see it every day, and I enjoy it every time. It’s even better when people are around me who have never seen it before. Their reaction is always amazing.

Harris: I’ve probably seen it 100 times. I’ve watched it so many times. I watch the fights and that’s one I just pop in my DVD player while I work sometimes.

Pettis: It was a hell of a night from the first fight to our fight. Everyone got what they paid for. I will be proud of what happened, that event and the WEC forever.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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