Bendo: 'It's going to be a fun night for me'

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
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Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Benson Henderson and Anthony PettisJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesBenson Henderson, left, has been looking forward to seeing Anthony Pettis one more time.
It's been a couple of years since Benson Henderson and his trainer, John Crouch, watched their 2010 WEC title loss to Anthony Pettis.

Henderson doesn't get "too tape happy" to begin with. He'll watch a fight once to find a feel for his opponent and be done with it. So in advance of the lightweights' Aug. 31 rematch in Milwaukee, Henderson may not even revisit the close decision and the Showtime kick. The truth is, he needs no refresher course on his only loss during 18 fights over the past six years. Lessons there to be learned, have been.

"I was able to man up and move on with my life," Henderson told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "It wasn't anything I was obsessing over. Now that we do get the chance to square off again and once I get my hands on him it's going to be a fun night for me. Let's put it that way."

The current UFC lightweight champion, seeking his fifth straight defense, is clear about where he could have done better the first time around. Outside of a few "stale moments" he classified his performance during one of the most dramatic title fights in Zuffa history as just "OK." Henderson and Crouch felt the effort in the cage that night was lackadaisical. In response, the trainer didn't ask his charge to get "mean," per se, but he wanted Henderson to be "more aggressive and try to have our way in the fight." Henderson, 27 at the time, stewed for a bit. He was quiet. Reflective. But also motivated.

"It would have been the same against anybody," said Crouch, who coaches out of The Lab in Glendale, Ariz. "He likes to compete. He hates to lose. He took it very hard."

Henderson's next appearance was his UFC debut. "As soon as we started in the UFC you could see the difference," Crouch said. "When he fought [Mark] Bocek, fought [Jim] Miller, fought [Clay] Guida, we were much more aggressive." Those wins set Henderson up for a title challenge against Frankie Edgar. All Henderson has done since is win, which considering his current status is the only thing he needs to do. Taking on Pettis is the next step. That's how Henderson and Crouch see it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

"When you've got the belt, every single person in this division wants to beat me up," Henderson said. "That's how it goes. It doesn't matter to me who my next defense is against. It's cool."

"It's the same thing for us," Crouch said. "It's going to be our fourth belt defense. We're gonna keep the belt for a while. It's just what we do."

If there's ever a good moment to fight Pettis, weeks removed from a knee injury that knocked him out of an Aug. 3 challenge of Jose Aldo, it would seem to be now. The 26-year-old challenger got the call after TJ Grant was concussed while training for his title shot. Pettis was in line for his own opportunity after the WEC win, but injuries derailed those plans and kept him out of action more than he’d like the past couple of years. In the meantime, the current champion strung together consistent performances against top-shelf competitors, including a squeaker in April over Gilbert Melendez.

"Benson has developed a whole bunch” since losing to Pettis, Crouch said. “You kind of overstate that with your own guy. I think he's better, but it's just part of the process."

Henderson has been pushed, prodded, and proven to be sharp. The challenger, spectacular yet sporadic.

The switch from Grant to Pettis is a "curveball," Henderson said, but nothing he hasn't dealt with in the past. And with five and a half weeks remaining until fight night, there's plenty of time for Henderson to properly prepare. The fact is Henderson had already cut down on the length of training camps because, Crouch said, "he works too hard and beats his body up.” Since they were just about to get in the gym to prepare for Grant, "timing is just fine," the trainer said.

Henderson sees the scenario in front of him as typical, which means there's no such thing as a perfect situation in MMA. At a minimum, Pettis is a guy with a chance, and that's all any fighter requires to pull off something special. This is how the lightweight champion processed Chris Weidman’s stunning victory over Anderson Silva: “The reason why we fight is that any given day the best can lose.”

Pettis, of course, is no long shot. Oddsmakers have pegged the challenger, who’s fighting in his hometown, as the slight favorite.

"It doesn't matter to me where it's at, who's it against, what hometown," Henderson said. "Bump all that noise. It doesn't matter to me. I'm going to beat him up. At the end of the night I'm going to get my hand raised."

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