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Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis reflect on the 'pretty cool kick' that changed everything

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Getty Images via Zuffa LLC

Regardless of the heights Benson Henderson reaches, however long he holds the belt or whichever records he topples, the reigning UFC lightweight champion understands that one particular moment will follow him for the rest of his career, forever etched into MMA's ultimate highlight reel.

"Man, that's the way life goes sometimes," Henderson said on Tuesday's UFC 164 conference call.

"You prepare yourself, prepare yourself, get ready, have weeks and weeks, months and years of preparation to get ready. For what? For one moment. Hopefully you don't falter during that moment."

Henderson, of course, refers to December 16, 2010, the fateful night when Anthony Pettis rolled into Henderson's hometown and stole everything he ever dreamed of, unveiling the ‘Showtime Kick' during the waning minutes of the WEC's existence.

WEC 53: The Showtime Kick

"All the judges' scorecards had it tied up 2-2 going into the fifth round. It was a super close fight," Henderson reflected. "It came down to it. Anthony let it all out, landed a pretty cool kick, and ever since I've been working to redeem myself."

Three years later, that "pretty cool kick" has come to define both men in one way or another. For Henderson, who's now seen his worst professional moment replayed hundreds of times, it poured gasoline on an already raging fire.

"Winning the belt, beating up the next guy, beating up the guy after that, the guy after that -- that, to me, redeemed myself," Henderson said. "Looking past that one moment in my life and making other great, spectacular moments."

Yet for Pettis, his shining moment at WEC 53 transformed into something the 26-year-old never could've anticipated. After losing out on one title shot due to circumstance, another due to a loss, then who knows how many more due to injury, the 'Showtime Kick' became a nagging reminder of the potential Pettis carried, if only he'd stop getting in his own way.

"I wasn't supposed to win," Pettis recollected. "I was just coming up the WEC ladder. The UFC was about to take over the WEC, so it was a lot at stake. And for me, I had nothing to lose."

Pettis may have stumbled in his UFC debut, but since then "Showtime" has done everything within his power to regain the momentum he once held. Over the past 19 months, Pettis competed just twice, logging 3:56 of ring time and seizing two masterful ‘Knockout of the Night' bonuses to prove all the hype was not misguided.

"It's not like I just won the fight off just one kick," Pettis explained of his first bout with Henderson. "I put the work in the other rounds to be in that position. So it's one of those things. I'm not going to live off of it. It happened. Move past it. Three years later, I've got to fight him again and he's the champ. Even with that kick, I'm still not the champ, so I've got a lot to do."

Perhaps it was fate that led these two back to the situation they find themselves in now. Henderson, once again the champion, set to defend his title against the unpredictable upstart, Pettis. Perhaps it was inevitable.

The stakes are higher, and this time the hometown crowd within Milwaukee's BMO Harris Bradley Center will be at Pettis' back, but otherwise the similarities to the pair's first meeting are eerie.

For years Pettis has been chasing what Henderson owns, but he won't say there's bad blood between the two. He will, however, admit a rivalry exists. And really, how couldn't it? For the second time in each other's life, Henderson is the champion, and Pettis wants the belt. It's that simple.

"In my head, I knew that we'd be facing off at some point in time again," Henderson concluded.

"Pettis is a tough fighter. He's explosive, does some crazy stuff. I'm sure he'll be around for a long time. But I fully intend on being around for a long time (and) being well known for being a champ a long time."