The UFC lightweight title has been in the sights of Anthony Pettis for quite some time, and the chance to make his dream a reality is rapidly approaching. It hasn't been an easy journey by any means, but the 26-year-old Duke Roufus-trained fighter has endured and is now only one step away from achieving his ultimate goal.
The opportunity to do so will come in an ideal setting. Pettis is a lifelong Milwaukee native, and with the Octagon rolling through his hometown for UFC 164, the former WEC lightweight title holder will step onto the sport's biggest stage and attempt to make good on his long-awaited title effort.
The situation comes as a fitting turn for the talented young fighter. Much like the hard scrabble, blue-collar city he represents, the Roufusport fighter has endured a series of setbacks and unfortunate scenarios on path to become a UFC champion. Multiple title shots have fallen by the wayside due to various circumstances both unrelated and directly tied to what Pettis has been able to do inside the cage.
Nevertheless, the lightweight striking phenom has remained at the top of the fight game and will square off with champion Benson Henderson on August 31 at UFC 164.
The main event title tilt has the potential to be a defining moment in Pettis' young career, and with his city behind him, "Showtime" is ready to to make the most of the moment.
"This is the very definition of all my dreams coming true," Pettis told Bleacher Report. "I've worked so hard to get where I'm at and it is finally here. I'm not going to let myself down. I'm not going to let my fans down and I'm not going to let my city down. This is what I've worked so hard for."
"The city of Milwaukee really gets behind their athletes," he added about competing in his hometown. "The Brewers, Bucks, Packers and the athletes from my city get a lot of support. I'm excited to actually get to put on for my city, in the Bradley Center, in my hometown, fighting for a title. It's going to be insane. Plus with the Harley Davidson celebration going on it is going to be a really fun week."
While the opportunity to compete for the lightweight crown came as a high point for Pettis, it was preceded by an astounding low. The unpredictable striker was originally slated to face pound-for-pound Brazilian phenom Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 163, but a knee injury suffered during a training session put the ice on his 145-pound title bid.
Following the injury, Pettis appeared to be out of the championship picture once again, but T.J. Grant's concussion and subsequent withdraw from his bout with "Bendo" created the perfect scenario for Pettis to jump directly back into the mix.
"My first thought was...again?" Pettis recalled. "This is really going to happen to me again? A small knee injury and this is going to to take me out of a title shot. But after the way it all played out, I'm positive about the whole situation. Everything happens for a reason and maybe I just wasn't meant to fight in Brazil for the 145-pound title. Maybe Milwaukee was my place to fight."
"I would have loved to not got hurt and the knee injury would've been nice not to have, but the way it worked out, it still worked out good. I still got my title shot and I got two title shots in one month. That's unheard of, man."
With the bout between Pettis and Henderson official, a rematch three years in the making is finally going to materialize. The two men originally locked up at WEC 53 back in 2010, with Pettis edging out Henderson to earn the WEC lightweight title.
Shortly after the bout, the WEC merged into the UFC fold, and both men set about their respective courses to reach the top of the division. Pettis' immediate title shot was put on hold due to the congestion created by the Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard trilogy, then taken off the table when he was upset by Clay Guida in his Octagon debut.
As for Henderson, the loss to Pettis sparked the most impressive run of his career as the 29-year-old MMA Lab product went on to win seven consecutive fights as well as earning and defending the UFC title in the process.
In Milwaukee at UFC 164, their paths will cross once again, and while Pettis considers himself to be the best lightweight fighter in the world, on August 31 he will have the opportunity to prove that status once and for all.
In his mind, Henderson has earned the right to be called champion, but it is something he is looking to take away from the current title holder.
"[Benson] won that belt," Pettis said. "He beat Frankie Edgar and Clay Guida and did what he had to do to get that belt. But I'm looking at it and I want his belt now. I took his WEC belt and now it's time to get that UFC belt. I've always felt I'm the best lightweight in the world and now it's my chance to prove it."
The matchup between Pettis and Henderson has become one of the "must see" bouts in the UFC's stacked second half run of 2013. In addition to the history and story lines the fighters share, the fight also promises to be an exciting clash of opposing styles.
Pettis is one of MMA's most versatile and innovative strikers and has the ability to end a fight in a multitude of brutal fashions. On the other hand, Henderson has built his success on the strength of a tenacious and relentless attack, all the while sticking to the gameplan at hand.
Where other fighters panic or give in to the urgency of competing in a close contest, Henderson has lived up to his nickname and remained "Smooth" and calm in the fray. It is one of the champion's greatest strengths, but isn't a concern for Pettis heading into the fight.
"I don't really care if he's in that rhythm or not, I just know what I have to do," Pettis said. "If he's in his rhythm, keep doing it, because I know what I have to do. Eventually one of my kicks are going to land, then one of my punches are going to land, and little by little he is going to break."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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