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The After Party – WEC 53: Henderson vs. Pettis

World Extreme Cagefighting officially closed down this past Thursday night and in true WEC fashion, they went out in style. The event was highlighted by a strike that was so outstanding and jaw-dropping that it made #2 on SportCenter’s Top Ten Plays, which was a robbery worse than any judges decision we’ve seen over the past few years. For those of you who are going to miss the WEC action and are worried that we won’t get consistently great events in 2011, don’t you worry. The reason WEC events were so great was because all the fighters were trying to impress Brittney Palmer. Luckily for us, she’s moving to the UFC, which means we’ll get even more great fights as the heavier fighters try to impress her as well.

Anthony Pettis defeated Ben Henderson by Unanimous Decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) to become the last ever WEC Lightweight Champion

The last fight in WEC history was headlined by Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis, looking to prove to the world that they belonged in the cage with the top UFC lightweights. They didn’t disappoint.

From early on you could tell that this was going to be a chess match. Pettis didn’t want to over-commit to his striking in order to avoid the takedowns of Henderson and Henderson didn’t want to rush in and get caught but the power of Pettis. Henderson managed a couple of takedowns in the first round, which was enough to get him the nod on most scorecards. The second round was even slower than the first but Pettis was the aggressor and may or may not have dropped Henderson early with a right hand. Things didn’t really pick up in the third round but it was the most dominant round turned in by either fighter. Pettis got the back of Henderson, who managed to stand up, but Pettis rode his back the entire round while also landing some good body shots and sneaky uppercuts. Then things picked up in the fourth round. Pettis almost caught Henderson is a tight guillotine but Henderson, being damn near unsubmitable, rolled out and escaped. Following that exchanged, Henderson got the back of Pettis and looked like he had a deep rear naked choke sunk in but Pettis was somehow able to escape. The round ended with Pettis looking for another guillotine but Henderson was once again too tough to finish. Most people had the fight even through two rounds, meaning the final round of WEC fighter ever was also the most important. Much like the fight, this was a back and fourth round. Pettis landed some good strikes early and Henderson fired back with body kicks. Henderson went for a takedown and ate a flush flying knee but managed to complete the takedown and momentarily get the back of Pettis before both men got to their feet with about 90 seconds remaining and the fight up for grabs. Then we witnessed the greatest strike in MMA history. I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now but if you haven’t, I beg of you to stop reading this column (don’t close the page, just open a new tab), and google “Anthony Pettis cage kick,” watch it until your brain explodes, find a new brain, and continue reading. In a move straight out of The Matrix, Pettis pushed off the cage with his right foot and then kicked Henderson in the head with the same foot, dropping Henderson to the met and effectively winning Pettis the fight. While Henderson wasn’t KO’d, he was rocked and pounded on the rest of the round. The scoring wasn’t academic because this is MMA, where judges live to screw things up, but luckily they got this one right. Pettis was crowned the last ever WEC Lightweight Champion and “Showtime” had officially arrived on our television sets.

With this victory, Pettis is now the #1 contender for the UFC Lightweight Title. Many people questioned whether or not the WEC lightweights could hang with the UFC lightweights but I thought Pettis looked outstanding in this fight. His striking is very crisp, he has power, and he seems pretty creative to me but besides that, his grappling looked very good. He defended a couple of takedowns and when he was put on his back, he immediately put Henderson on the defense by going for submissions. He was also very quick in the scrambles and showed good submission defense to avoid the rear naked choke from Henderson. Another thing about him is that he certainly doesn’t lack confidence and he seems to live for the big moment, which is pretty necessary when your nickname is “Showtime.”

Henderson fought a good fight and if he was a split second quicker in moving backwards when Pettis pushed off the cage, who knows what would have happened. I think he gave Pettis a little too much respect on the feet and went away from attack the body, even though that was where he had his most success. He put Pettis on his back more times than not, he survived some submission threats, and he was a second or two away from submitting Pettis in the fourth round. It will be interesting to see how Henderson fares against UFC competition and if he can bounce back from a pretty disheartening loss. We really should have seen this loss coming though.

Predicted Next Fights: Pettis vs. Maynard/Edgar winner – Henderson vs. Mark Bocek

Dominick Cruz defeated Scott Jorgensen by Unanimous Decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) to become the first ever UFC Bantamweight Champion

It was the first time ever that a UFC title fight had aired live and free in the US. Looking to make history, Dominick Cruz proved why he is the best bantamweight in the world by putting on a clinic against Scott Jorgensen.

The fight was all Cruz, all the time. From the opening bell to the final horn, Cruz danced around on his feet, put together very good combinations, displayed excellent head movement, slipped everything Jorgensen threw, countered whenever Jorgensen would come in, managed some easy takedowns, stuffed Jorgensen’s takedowns, and controlled things on the ground. It was 25 minutes of complete domination for Cruz. Jorgensen hung tough and I never felt like he was in danger of being finished but I also felt like he never had a prayer in this fight after the first round. Cruz’ movement was just off the charts. He would move in, land a combination, and back out before Jorgensen could counter. And if Jorgensen tried to turn on the aggression, Cruz would move his head and body, and then counter strikes of his own. Cruz pitched a shutout in this fight and looked on a much different level than Jorgensen en route to becoming the first ever UFC Bantamweight Champion.

Jorgensen gave it his best effort but Cruz was simply the better fighter. Nothing Jorgensen did worked in this fight. He tried to counter and he was too slow, he tried to be aggressive and he got countered, he tried takedowns and they didn’t work, he tried to sprawl and ended up on his back. And honestly, I’m not sure what he could have done different. Cruz is a tough puzzle to solve and Jorgensen’s style played right into his hands. Jorgensen is as tough as they come and he’s still a handful for anyone at bantamweight but it was clear in this fight that he has some things to work on if he’s going to get another crack at the title.

Cruz is the new Lyoto Machida. He’s the guy who everyone is going to talk about as being impossible to figure out until someone eventually figures him out and then we’ll move on to the next guy. He’s that good right now though. His movement and accuracy on the feet is dazzling and he’s proven to be a very tough wrestler despite not having a collegiate wrestling background like many of his opponents. He’ll likely fight Urijah Faber next and I really hope that they end up as the coaches for The Ultimate Fighter 13. Not only does it make sense in terms of the timing as Cruz needs surgery on his hand but these two guys don’t like each and it would establish the lighter weights in the company.

Predicted Next Fights: Cruz vs. Faber – Jorgensen vs. Damacio Page

Donald Cerrone defeated Chris Horodecki by Submission (Triangle Choke) at 2:43 in Round Two

When Donald Cerrone is on the card, you can expect a great fight. So when he was paired up against fellow striker Chris Horodecki, fans expected a war. While it wasn’t quite the all out brawl some were hoping for, it was another breakout fight for “The Cowboy.”

From the opening bell, Cerrone looked like he was in cruise control. Horodecki tried his best to combat the reach of Cerrone by going to the body, coming over the top, and generally doing a good job of mixing things up but Cerrone was able to time him coming in with a knee on multiple occasions and every time Horodecki connected, Cerrone just brushed it off. Cerrone managed a couple of takedowns in the first round but Horodecki bounced right back up from the first one and Cerrone ran out of time to work with the second one. Horodecki put Cerrone on his back once in the first round but Cerrone threatened with multiple submissions, which Horodecki was able to avoid but didn’t want any part of. Between rounds, commentator Stephan Bonnar informed us that Horodecki’s corner advised him to put Cerrone on his back. I thought this was a baffling call by Horodecki’s corner given Cerrone’s submission prowess but Horodecki listened. He put Cerrone on his back early in the round and met with a flurry of submissions. Cerrone actually slapped on a LeBell lock at one point but Horodecki survived. After attempting multiple submissions, Cerrone finally locked on a triangle choke and forced Horodecki to tap. It was a fitting end to the WEC career of someone who helped carry the WEC lightweight division for years now.

Horodecki needs to move to featherweight or he may not survive the lightweight bloodletting. He’s a bit pudgy and looks like he had weight to lose so if he just makes the effort, he should be able to cut down to 145. Horodecki has talent, especially on the feet, but this far he hasn’t been the same fighter we saw in the IFL. His competition level has been upgraded and again, he’s in the wrong weight class, but he needs to turn things around quickly.

I really think Cerrone can be a Clay Guida level star in the UFC. Maybe that doesn’t sound that impressive but just think about it. Everyone loves Guida, even though he doesn’t have the greatest record in the world, because he has a unique charisma and puts on entertaining fights. That’s exactly how Cerrone is. He may not ever challenge for the UFC Lightweight Title but he’s going to put on entertaining fights and gets fans on his side. He called out Cole Miller after the fight because Miller defeated his best friend Leonard Garcia three years ago, and if Miller can defeat Matt Wiman, I’m all for that fight. I’d say make Cerrone vs. Miller no matter what but Cerrone should be fighting someone coming off a victory. No word yet if Cerrone wants to fight the other five people who have defeated Garcia, the other four who should have beat him, or the judges who don’t score the fights for him.

Predicted Next Fights: Cerrone vs. Miller/Wiman winner – Horodecki vs. Mackens Semerzier

Kamal Shalorus defeated Bart Palaszewski by Split Decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)

Kamal Shalorus and Bart Palaszewski are two lightweights who needed impressive performances in order to survive the WEC/UFC lightweight bloodletting. While neither turned in the type of impressive performance many fans were hoping for, one man still got the win.

As most people expected, Shalorus came out swinging on Palaszewski. He was unable to land that big flurry but he did managed a rather easy takedown. For most of the first round Shalorus pounded away on Palaszewski on the ground but credit Palaszewski, who did a nice job blocking a lot of the punches with his arms and using a little “rope a dope” strategy to get Shalorus to punch himself out. Shalorus looked a bit tired to start the second round and he wasn’t throwing his punches with nearly the kind of speed and power that he had in the first round but at the same time, Palaszewski didn’t turn on the pressure like he should have. It was a closely contested fight on the feet but Shalorus managed a takedown, which secure the round for him. The third round was much like the second except that Shalorus couldn’t land the big takedown. He tried late in the fight but ended up taking a big knee followed by a straight right hand. It seemed like Palaszewski could have stolen the fight if he decided to get aggressive but it seemed like he had already done enough in his mind to win. Unfortunately for him, two judges gave the fight to Shalorus, who picked up a solid split decision victory.

In a sense, Palaszewski gave this fight away. By the end of the first round Shalorus had very little left in the tank but Palaszewski still seemed afraid of his power and decided to try and win a decision rather than move in for the finish. Palaszewski is a solid fighter who has had an up and down MMA career but he’s on the chopping block right now. As always, I hate when UFC releases guys on the main card so I hope Palaszewski is given another fight but he’s in desperate need of a victory next time he’s in the cage.

Shalorus might be a little too old to make a real run at the title but damned if he isn’t going to try. He has a great self-confidence, he believes in his power, he believes in his chin, and he believes in his wrestling. His cardio is questionable and who knows how he will do against the better lightweights but so far in his career he’s undefeated and proven to be as tough as they come.

Predicted Next Fights: Shalorus vs. Shane Roller – Palaszewski vs. Dustin Poirier

I want to end this column by dedicating it to my friend Josh Malysh, who tragically passed away at the age of 21. While I never met Josh in real life, we became friends through various MMA forums and chatted daily about the sport we both love through email, twitter, and MSN. I want to let everyone know that you should cherish all your friends, even if you’ve never met them face-to-face, because you never know when tragedy will strike. R.I.P. Josh aka BRUTE.


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