Less than one week after capturing the UFC lightweight championship, Ben Henderson is taking fire from all sides. Such is life at the top. On Wednesday's edition of The MMA Hour, the man he defeated at UFC 144, Frankie Edgar, practically demanded an immediate rematch. Shortly after that, the manager of rising contender Anthony Pettis called in to make "Showtime's" case as the man who should have the first crack at Henderson's belt.
Apparently, Pettis was among the show's live listeners, and though he was feeling under the weather, asked his manager Mike Roberts to call in on his behalf. Roberts said that while Pettis respects Edgar's resume and stance on a return bout, that he believes he made his own solid case with a spectacular knockout of Joe Lauzon.
Beyond that, sprinkle some added rivalry into the equation, as Pettis felt slighted by Henderson's recent comments about Pettis' place in the pecking order and seeming disinterest in a rematch.
"He's heard some stuff that Ben Henderson has said in the last couple days that really got under his skin," he said. "Ben has said some things basically implying that Anthony is beneath him and he has to do all this stuff to work his way back to a title shot. He keeps referring to him like, 'I see you. You're doing big things. One day…' And Anthony's like, 'Wait a minute. I just beat you over a year ago. I put your face on ESPN for a year and you're talking like you're so much ahead of me.' It got under Anthony's skin a little bit."
Pettis did in fact defeat Henderson in December 2010 in the last match in WEC, aided by an innovative fifth-round "Showtime Kick" off the cage that floored Henderson and sealed the win.
Given that history between them and the fact that Pettis is one up, Roberts said Pettis is actually surprised that Henderson isn't jumping at the chance to face him again and avenge that defeat.
"Anthony was thinking, 'Ben should want this rematch more than anything,'" he said. "He said if he would've lost like that, he would've wanted it. He's perturbed because he just keeps implying that Anthony is so much beneath him. He respects the fact that he won the belt and Anthony was glad that he won the fight, but he's a little perturbed that Ben keeps talking like Anthony is so far beneath him."
Pettis' displeasure likely stems at least partially from some of Henderson's comments in a post-fight interview with MMA Fighting in Saitama.
When asked by Ariel Helwani if he expected to next face Pettis, Henderson had some good things to say about him but indicated that matchup wasn't likely his next one.
"He's spectacular," he said. "He does a lot of big moves, but I think there's a line. I don't think he's first in line. I'm going to handle my business. I'm going to defend my belt a couple times. He's going to handle his business. I'm sure he'll get 2-3 more wins, maybe highlight-reel wins, maybe sturdy wins against solid wrestlers. He can show he worked on his takedown defense or whatever. He's going to do his thing, I'm going to do my thing and I'm sure we will match up one day. I'm sure it will be for my UFC belt. I don't know if it will be next but I'm sure it'll happen."
For now, Roberts said he hasn't heard anything from UFC officials about whether Pettis would draw Henderson, or whether Edgar's campaign would push him back to the front of the line.
If it's the latter, so be it. Roberts acknowledged Edgar made several good points about his own rematch, but this situation has everything to do with Pettis and Henderson, and what they believe to be a champion's distorted viewpoint.
"I don't think he's dodging him, but Anthony feels like he's disrespecting him by the things he's saying," Roberts said. "Anthony's like, 'I just beat him a little over a year ago, or a little over a year ago, fair and square, and he's talking like he's so far ahead of me, like, 'Hey kid, I got you in my sights,' and that's rubbing Anthony the wrong way."