It wasn't supposed to happen.
Anthony Pettis was at home in Milwaukee just a few days removed from getting back in the gym after suffering a knee injury that kept him from taking a fight at UFC 163 against Jose Aldo.
Then, the call came in from the UFC—"TJ Grant is injured, would you like to step in and face Benson Henderson at UFC 164 on August 31?"
There was no hesitation from Pettis when he replied.
"Words can't describe it," Pettis told Bleacher Report on Saturday after accepting the fight with Henderson. "You couldn't write a better story."
To backtrack a few weeks, Pettis hurt his knee in training that forced him out of his fight against Aldo, and immediately, his attention turned to the lightweight title fight taking place in his hometown of Milwaukee a few weeks later.
The only problem was Henderson was already matched up with Grant, and Pettis wasn't sure his knee would be ready in time. Those doubts faded pretty quickly when he actually got the call from the UFC offering him the fight.
"It wasn't like nothing happened. I tore my LCL, it's still a serious injury, but it isn't as bad as an ACL or meniscus tear. Minimum is supposed to be six weeks out, but I've got a good therapist here, and I feel confident enough that I can take this fight," Pettis stated. "You can't say no when the UFC calls, especially for a title shot."
"I actually went back (to training) last week which is the crazy thing. I went back, sparred for the first time, felt good and I was thinking October for Josh Thomson. That's what I was getting ready for, trying to get back in the gym. The UFC called with the best news of my life."
As soon as the announcement was made that Pettis would be stepping in to fight Henderson, the cries of conspiracy rang throughout the MMA world. It's no secret that Pettis is the last fighter to beat Henderson when the two of them fought on the last ever WEC card in 2010.
It's no secret that in that fight, Pettis unleashed one of the most talked about moves in MMA history, when he flattened Henderson with a move he dubbed "The Showtime kick," which involved him literally running up off the cage and jumping for a kick that connected flush with Henderson's face.
It's also no secret that Pettis had been lobbying for a title shot for the better part of two years, and the improbable way that this all came together felt like guessing the correct numbers to win the lottery.
Even Pettis had his doubts when the call came in.
"I'm even thinking like 'damn, could TJ Grant be really hurt?', is this part of some bigger plan? It's just crazy. The way it happened and the way it's playing out. It's one of those storybook fairytales," Pettis said. "It wasn't supposed to happen, but it worked out perfectly."
"I was thinking the same thing, like TJ Grant can't get hurt, this isn't true. Two guys can't get hurt in two divisions in back-to-back title fights. I don’t know, it just turned out in my favor. I don't want to think about it more. This is the biggest fight of my life in my hometown. I just want that contract to come so I can sign it and it can be 100 percent."
Now that the fight is happening, Pettis will quickly turn his attention to Benson Henderson and his preparation for the fight.
The moment that Henderson won the belt from former champion Frankie Edgar, he was bombarded with questions about Pettis given the nature of how their first fight went down. Pettis is sure that Henderson will be excited to get a second shot at him—either that, or he's going to be worried it will happen all over again, the same way as last time.
"He's the champion, he better be (excited). He's the guy that everybody wants, he's the No. 1 guy in the lightweight division. I don't see him being too worried about it. I'm sure he's confident, he's on a winning streak, but I know that has to be in his head," Pettis stated. "This is the last guy that beat him in my hometown. He's either seeking revenge, or he's worried; I don't know which one it is."
Despite the fact that Pettis wasn't matched up with Henderson until Friday doesn't mean he hasn’t been watching his former foe with quite a bit of interest given their standing in the lightweight division.
Pettis has been sitting and watching Henderson win the belt and defend it in his last few fights, quietly breaking down the good and the bad while anticipating his own shot against the champion.
"All of his last fights, for sure the (Frankie) Edgar fight, I was there sitting and watching these fights front row, could have went either way, the (Gilbert) Melendez fight could have gone either way. So, there's an argument he may not be the top 155'er, but he has the belt, that's all there is to it," Pettis said. "He has the belt. Whether he's winning by decision or he's blowing guys out, he has the belt, and that's what I want. I've been waiting for this for two years, and it's finally here. It doesn't feel real."
Now, as he heads back into training camp for the next month to get ready for Henderson, there will undoubtedly be one question that gets asked over and over again—what do you remember about landing the famous Showtime kick?
"I've been answering millions of questions about the Showtime kick, even before this fight popped up, so I can't even imagine," Pettis joked. "It's the perfect selling point, the commercials can be the Showtime kick. For a minute, I was sick of it cause people were talking like 'oh, he can't beat Ben Henderson for real, that kick was lucky, that's why he won the fight.' I look at it like that's going to be part of UFC history forever. That was one of the best kicks ever in mixed martial arts history."
Pettis truly believes that landing this fight the way he did with a chance to win the UFC lightweight title in his hometown of Milwaukee was an act of destiny and fate.
Now that destiny and fate got him the chance, Pettis knows he has to work hard to make sure that shot isn't squandered.
"To win it, I've got to put in the work. I can't just sit back and write off the win like I did it before," Pettis said. "He's going to bring it, I'm the last guy to beat him, everybody doesn't consider him the real champ until he beats me, so he's going to bring it. I feel like I've got the tools to beat this guy."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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