When UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis withdrew from a scheduled title defense against Josh Thomson in mid-November, citing the latest in a long string of hard luck injuries, well, let's just say Thomson wasn't surprised.
"For some reason, I didn't hold my breath," Thomson said flatly on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"I kind of figured that he was going to back out of the fight, just given that he had pulled out of the fight with (Jose) Aldo, miraculously got better to fight in his hometown against Benson (Henderson), and now he's pulled out again. So I can understand. You just won the title, you want a little time off."
That's not to say Thomson thinks Pettis is faking his injury. That'd be an odd accusation, considering that Pettis is expected to miss upwards of eight months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee.
What Thomson is implying, though, is that the injury may not have necessitated Pettis' withdrawal one month out from fight night.
"I tore my PCL the week before I fought Gilbert Melendez the third [time]. There's footage of me doing it, FOX was following me around for it, and I knew exactly what was going on. You can fight with a torn PCL," Thomson said.
"[There were] four weeks or five weeks left in [Pettis'] training camp. I think he could've muscled up. But that's just my opinion. Everyone reacts differently. I've seen guys get through NCAA national championships with torn ACLs wrestling. I've seen guys, just as soon as their ACL tears, they can't even put pressure on it. They just scream in pain. Some people react differently to pain. He's pulled out of two title fights now with a hurt knee, and so I guess he doesn't react very well to pain."
After missing the majority of 2012 due to a series of injuries, only to be forced out from a pair of high-profile bouts once again in 2013, Pettis will now take a backseat while a staggeringly large mountain of lightweight contenders vie for the right to become his first challenge when he returns in mid-2014.
Thomson initially proposed the institution of an interim belt in Pettis' absence, although UFC matchmakers balked at the idea. Instead "The Punk," a former Strikeforce titleholder in his own right, was given a chance to position himself atop the heap with the first crack at the recently dethroned, record-tying former UFC champion, Henderson, for the main event of UFC on FOX 10.
Following a contentious run to three successful title defenses, Henderson ultimately fell short for the second time in his career against Pettis, losing via first-round armbar at UFC 164. Nonetheless, "Smooth" still remains the division's No. 1 ranked fighter, and, Thomson believes, a much more challenging opponent then the current champion.
"That kid (Pettis) ain't going to sniff a takedown on me," Thomson said. "Benson has a good chance of taking me down.
"The overall game, to me, there's more of a threat with Benson. Stylistically, he's a little bit better than me in one area and I'm a little bit better than him in some other areas. Whereas, Pettis, I don't really want to use the term one-trick pony, but he's really, he's a stand-up guy. You saw with the Clay Guida fight ... if you get a couple takedowns on him, and you kind of solve the riddle in the first two takedowns, he kind of shuts down -- especially if you mix it up in the stand-up, the takedowns will come a little bit easier."
The last time Henderson tasted defeat, it came in the form of a heartbreaking decision loss to Pettis at WEC 53 in 2010. Afterward Henderson returned with a vengeance, ripping through UFC opposition uncontested en route to the title.
While Thomson expects a similarly charged Henderson to show up at UFC on FOX 10, he downplayed Henderson's most recent loss while throwing in one last jab toward the sidelined champ.
"I really think [Henderson] underestimated Pettis' grappling, and it just cost him," Thomson said. "I think to me, I can't say it was a fluke -- there was a lot of technique involved -- but he got his arm caught in the wrong position. And not just the armbar, he got the other arm caught underneath it, and that's pretty rare. It very rarely happens, especially with no gi.
"I've had an opportunity to grapple with Pettis in Hawaii at the UFC grand opening gym there in Honolulu. He's pretty crafty on the ground as far as when you're right there playing around near his legs. He's pretty crafty, he's got good transitions. But his overall grappling game is horrible."