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As Anthony Pettis prepares to fight at UFC 246, we pause to look back at the kick that made him a household name in the MMA world.
Let’s go back to 2010. It’s December, the end of an era for MMA. The brand of lighter weight MMA fighters was in the throes of its final show. Bought out by the UFC in 2006, World Extreme Cage MMA built a brand over their near-decade of existence backing and supporting smaller fighters. Something the UFC wanted nothing to with at the time. Some of the best fighters ever were rising up the ranks, like Urijah Faber, the companies first mainstream star. There was Dominick Cruz, one of the most dominant fighters ever. Aired for all to see on Versus (now NBC Sports Network). Then the UFC decided one day they did want more lighter weight fighters. So they announced they were closing WEC, merging the rosters and titles into one set of divisions.
On this lone night in December, however, it wasn’t the UFC. It wasn’t the iconic rivals in Cruz and Faber, it wasn’t even Dana White that stole the show. It was young 22-year-old Anthony Pettis that made the biggest mark in a company that was having its last day. After the merger announcements, any divisions that feature two champions would fight to unify the belts. That’s where Pettis comes in. He was taking on then WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. Henderson was 12-1, with two wins over current UFC star Donald Cerrone. Henderson was similar to Pettis in age, at 26. Both men had superb grappling skills at the time, while were seen as rising prospects for the UFC. The winner was supposed to get a title shot at the UFC lightweight champion in early 2011. That fight never happened but the hope was to create the next major lightweight draw. Then lightweight legend BJ Penn was slowing down and had his last meaningful win over Matt Hughes. The UFC needed new stars.
Pettis and Henderson went to war for that honor, with both men trading shots and fighting for position throughout the contest. Pettis, wanting to take one last shot at immortality, rocketed off the side of the cage for a moment that no one watching live on Versus could ever fathom.
The strike was aptly dubbed the Showtime Kick. A move that really can only be done once, and only executed with the perfect combination of positioning and luck. Launching with intensity, Pettis drags his foot across the cheek and jaw of Henderson, knocking Henderson down. The fight was clenched at that moment. It wasn’t a knockout, Henderson survived the kick and made it to the judges, yet it was so vicious that there was no way Pettis could lose the round. Already up on the cards, it was locked in for Pettis.
The most shocking thing about the kick wasn’t that Pettis hit it, but that he hit Henderson as flush as possible, and Henderson still was able to keep going. The fleeting last-minute ticking by, a move that only happens in pro wrestling after weeks of rehearsing, is thrown out in a last desperate gasp to clench the fight, and Henderson survives it.
The Showtime Kick is viewed as the greatest striking moment in MMA history by many and who’s to argue? The legacy of the kick is nearly perfect. The last big strike, in the last minute, of companies last fight. The only way it could have been better is if Pettis was losing the fight and knocked-out Henderson for a come-from-behind victory.
That stuff only happens in movies though. Right?