Anthony Pettis waited for his shot at a UFC title. And waited. And waited. Sometimes it seemed like it was never going to happen.
But Pettis' perseverance finally paid off on Saturday night. Fighting in front of his hometown fans at Milwaukee's Bradley Center, Pettis defeated Benson Henderson to win the UFC lightweight championship at UFC 164. A verbal submission via armbar at 4:31 of the first round did the trick.
"I grew up coming to this arena," Pettis (17-2) said. "I sat up in the nosebleeds, this is for the people up in the nosebleeds, you can do what you put your mind to."
While Henderson neutralized Pettis over the first half of the round, Pettis turned the corner by landing four nasty body kicks.
Still, Henderson found himself in Pettis' guard later in the round, and he tried to do the work to seal the round. But Pettis kept his cool and worked his way into an expertly applied armbar. Since Henderson had both of his arms tied up, his only choice was to offer a verbal surrender.
"I felt his arm pop and he said ‘tap, tap, tap,'" Pettis said.
The victory closed the book on a long road to a title shot for Pettis. He defeated Henderson in Dec. 2010 to claim the WEC lightweight title, using the famed "Showtime kick" to seal the decision. Pettis was supposed to get a shot at the winner of a Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard lightweight title fight, but was shoved back in line when that fight ended in a draw and a rematch was ordered.
That was one of many title-shot setbacks for Pettis. Another was a knee injury suffered before a scheduled Aug. 3 fight against featherweight champ Jose Aldo. But when T.J. Grant, who was scheduled to face Henderson, had to pull out due to a concussion, Pettis stepped into the bout.
"With Jose Aldo my dreams were crushed," Pettis said. "I thought I'd never get a title shot, but my knee get better, you can't write a better story. It's crazy how this played out."
For his part, Henderson tipped his cap to the man who has now handed him his only two defeats in 14 Zuffa fights. "I'll be back don't worry about that," Henderson said. "Anthony is a tough dude. He got my arm, he did a good job turning it the right direction, I moved just a hair, that was a high-level armbar right there."
Henderson had a seven-fight win streak snapped. He finished his reign tied with B.J. Penn for most successful lightweight title defenses, with three.