Anthony Pettis or T.J. Grant: Who Deserves to face Benson Henderson?

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterJune 17, 2013

The saga of Anthony Pettis and his quest for a UFC title shot continues.

It started back in December 2010 when Pettis defeated Benson Henderson (using the now-infamous Showtime Kick) to become the final WEC lightweight champion. The win was supposed to give him the right to face the winner of the UFC 125 bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.

But as you know by now, things didn't quite work out that way. Edgar and Maynard fought to a draw that night, and after initially announcing that Pettis would receive his title shot as scheduled, Dana White changed his mind and ordered a rematch between Edgar and Maynard. Pettis was given the option of remaining on the sidelines and facing the winner, but he elected to fight Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale.

Pettis lost to Guida and tumbled down the lightweight ladder. He returned later that year and worked his way back into the title picture by rattling off three consecutive victories over top UFC lightweights. Pettis was in the catbird seat, but he shocked everyone by volunteering to drop to featherweight for a fight with champion Jose Aldo.

You know the rest of the story. Pettis suffered an injury last week and was forced to withdraw from the bout, and Chan Sung Jung took his place in the title fight. 

Here's what Pettis told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour:

"I'm stuck on the back of the bus again in two weight classes," said Pettis. "I did everything under my power to make it happen, the UFC is looking out for what's best for my health, I can't knock them for looking out for my health.

"I can't believe it happened, man," Pettis continued. "I missed another title shot that slipped out of my fingers. I felt fine, I'm a couple weeks out from the fight, probably the best I've ever felt I felt invincible in training, I was so on point. For this to happen, it's unfortunate. I couldn't sleep the last couple days thinking about what was going to happen."

Pettis has thrown a wrench in the UFC's plans by announcing that he'll be ready to go by late August, and he wants a rematch with Henderson at UFC 164. Only problem is, T.J. Grant has already been given the title shot; Pettis wants the UFC to remove Grant and give him the shot instead.

Who is more deserving of the lightweight title fight? Should Grant get the fight he earned through hard work, or should the UFC opt to go with the more marketable rematch between Henderson and Pettis?

Pettis has a legitimate case. He was screwed out of the title shot that he earned by beating Henderson due to the freak draw between Edgar and Henderson. Sure, he chose to face Guida and lost that fight, but he probably should have received the title shot promised to him in the first place.

There were extenuating circumstances; Edgar and Maynard going to a draw was wholly unsatisfying for everyone involved, and the UFC's decision to move forward with the rematch was an understandable one. 

When you couple that crazy situation with the three wins Pettis has scored since losing to Guida, it's clear that he should be at or near the top of any list of lightweight contenders. Henderson vs. Pettis 2 is also a much more marketable fight; all the UFC needs to do is show highlights from the first bout that close with repeated viewings of the Showtime Kick. It sells itself.

But Grant's five consecutive wins in the lightweight division cannot be overlooked, especially when you factor in his stunning knockout of Gray Maynard at UFC 160. Grant and Maynard were told prior to the fight that the winner would be the next lightweight title contender, and the Canadian went out and earned the biggest win of his career. The UFC has a history of promising title shots to fighters, only to rip them away when a more marketable fight becomes available.

I'd hate to see that pattern continue.

That's why I believe Grant should be allowed to fight Henderson as scheduled at UFC 164. He earned it, and he deserves it. He doesn't have the kind of name value that Pettis has, but at some point the UFC needs to be cognizant that they're a sport as well as an entertainment company. Those UFC titles will quickly lose their value if popularity is the sole determining factor on who gets championship opportunities and who sits on the sidelines.

Here's what I'd like to see happen: Grant should fight Henderson at UFC 164 as planned. Pettis should forget about dropping to featherweight, heal his injured knee and prepare himself to face the winner late in 2013, perhaps even at the year-end card in Las Vegas. I wanted to see Aldo vs. Pettis just as much as the next guy, but I'm a bigger fan of Pettis sticking around the lightweight division. 

Besides, even if Pettis does elect to stay at lightweight, there's a very good chance we'll still get to see him face Aldo in the future. The featherweight champion has been quite vocal about his desire to finish his run at featherweight and move up to challenge the bigger fighters in the lightweight division, and there's a good chance we'll see it happen in the next 12 months.

Regardless of how everything plays out, one thing is for sure: We're in for some very entertaining lightweight title fights over the next year. And I, for one, can't wait to watch all of them.