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Henderson delighted to defend home turf

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A win over Anthony Pettis tonight would make Ben Henderson the final lightweight champion in World Extreme Cagefighting history and immediately the No. 1 contender to the Ultimate Fighting Championship belt.

The WEC 53 main event will be the final fight in the organization’s history and will take place in Henderson’s adopted hometown on a card he fought hard to bring to Jobing.com Arena.

Any of the circumstances could add unnecessary stress to the already pressure-packed proposition of preparing for a fight. But Henderson said it’s all just part of the job.

“It’s all in one. The last WEC ever. The first time here in Glendale. The No. 1 contendership in the UFC. It’s a trifecta. Three is a good number. I like three, so it’s good,” he said with a smile. “There’s added pressure each and every fight, especially if you continue to win. If you can’t take the pressure and you can’t handle it, find another career.”

Henderson is thrilled to be fighting in the town where he lives and trains, particularly because of how the event came together.

The area was awarded the card through the “Hometown Takedown” contest this summer. A list of 30 cities was posted online and fans from the cities had the chance to vote for their area. The town with the most votes got the event, and Henderson helped lobby for his hometown.

“They didn’t give Phoenix anything. The fans went out there and earned it. They went online and voted and they got it here in Phoenix. That’s awesome,” Henderson said. “A lot of people will just talk about things, but then the hard-core MMA fans here in Phoenix went out and did something about it. They voted online and they got it down here. That being said, I think it’s definitely up to us to put on a good show and give them what they want.”

The spiritual 27-year-old has won all five of his fights since joining the WEC. He said he was “stoked” to find out about the winner of this fight getting a crack at the UFC title and that going down as the last WEC lightweight champion would be special.

“That actually has quite a bit of significance to me. The WEC has been great. It has given me a lot of my national and international attention and my fans. To end it with a belt around my waist and then go on to the other three letters would be great,” he said. “My WEC career has been awesome. Leaving on a high note to top it off would be a storybook (ending).”

It won’t be easy against Pettis, a versatile 23-year-old who has stopped three consecutive opponents since suffering the lone loss of his career in his WEC debut.

He said he will be just fine in front of what is expected to be a largely pro-Henderson crowd.

“I’ve got a lot of support coming down to Arizona. I’m excited because it’s not 19 degrees out. I get to wear shorts,” said Pettis, a Milwaukee resident. “I mean, the crowd’s going to boo me, but it’s just me and Ben in the cage. I’m not going to let that get into my head, and I’m just going to fight my fight.”

The card, which airs live on Versus at 6 p.m., also features a bantamweight title bout between Scott Jorgensen and Dominick Cruz.

The winner will be the last bantamweight champion in WEC history and instantly become the UFC bantamweight champion as the weight class gets added to the larger organization for the first time.

Two lightweight bouts round out the main card, as Chris Horodecki meets Donald Cerrone and Kamal Shalorus takes on Bart Palaszewski.

With the merger on tap, many fighters on the card could be fighting for jobs. That’s especially true for the undercard bout between Shane Roller and former champion Jamie Varner. The loser would have two straight losses.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.

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