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Henderson gets kick out of defending UFC crown

Anyone who has seen an Ultimate Fighting Championship highlight reel probably has seen the clip in which one fighter plants his foot on the fence and uses it as a springboard to launch himself across the cage to land a kick on his opponent’s chin with the same foot.

It’s one of the most famous and spectacular maneuvers in mixed martial arts history.

As amazing as it was, that short clip from December 2010 was only the beginning of the story.

The guy who landed the kick is Anthony Pettis. He won a unanimous decision in that fight to capture the lightweight belt in what was the final bout in World Extreme Cagefighting history before it was merged into the UFC. Pettis received an immediate UFC title shot with that victory, but never got that opportunity because he chose to fight instead of waiting around for then-champion Frankie Edgar and was upset by Clay Guida.

Benson Henderson was on the receiving end of the kick. He entered the UFC off that loss and immediately won his first three bouts in a six-month period to receive a title shot. Henderson took the belt from Edgar and has successfully defended it three times to run his winning streak to seven since the fateful night.

It all comes full circle tonight as Pettis challenges Henderson for the UFC lightweight title in the main event of UFC 164 in Milwaukee.

“It happened; we’re past it,” Pettis said of what is known as the “Showtime Kick,” after his nickname. “Two years later I’ve got to fight him again, and he’s the champ. So even with that kick, I’m still not the champ. So I’ve got a lot to prove, and I’ve got a lot to work for.”

Henderson tried to play off the rematch as “just another title defense,” but the 29-year-old eventually conceded his excitement at getting a shot at redemption.

It’s an understandable feeling. Even as he has gone on to great things in the UFC, Henderson has seen that kick over and over.

It was one brief lapse of failing to defend something no one had seen in a competitive fight.

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

“When it came down to it, Anthony let it all out and landed a pretty cool kick, and ever since I’ve been working to redeem myself.”

The fighter who was on the right end of the kick seems most ready to move on.

Pettis, 26, prefers to look back on his effort in the first four rounds of that fight, when he put himself in position to get the victory by winning the final round, as well as all he has accomplished before and after the one second for which he is most remembered.

“Ah, man, we’ve been through it,” he said. “It’s not like I just won the fight off just one kick. I put the work in the other rounds to be in that position. So it’s just one of those things. I’m not going to live off it.”

Whether they want to talk about it or not, Pettis and Henderson know their names always will be linked, and not only because of that one highlight moment.

Both came over from WEC at a time when it had been seen as the UFC’s little brother, only to validate the legitimacy of themselves and the organization with their success.

The rematch finally might start to close that chapter of their lives.

“After this fight, somebody’s going to win, and somebody’s going to lose,” Pettis said. “And then I think we both go our separate ways in our careers.”

The rematch headlines a pay-per-view card that begins at 7 p.m. and also features a heavyweight bout between former champions Josh Barnett and Las Vegan Frank Mir.

Barnett won the belt in 2002, but left the UFC without defending it after testing positive for a banned substance. He, perhaps only somewhat jokingly, has been referring to this as his first title defense. Mir is looking to rebound from back-to-back losses for the first time.

A featherweight bout between Guida and top contender Chad Mendes also is scheduled.

Four fights on the preliminary card will air live on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329) at 5 p.m., with the remainder of the prelims streaming live on Facebook at 3:30.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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