5 reasons to watch UFC 164

UFC 164 Preview
UFC 164 Preview
FOX Sports E. Spencer Kyte
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Before the dust settles from UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann II in Indianapolis, the Octagon will already be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Saturday night, the Bradley Center plays host to UFC 164, an event headlined by one of the most hotly anticipated contests of the last couple years.

Just in case, the names and match-ups on the fight card aren’t enough to sway you, here’s a little more backstory and build up to make sure you know why this coming weekend, you’re going to want to be watching UFC 164.

Championship Rematch

The first time Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis shared the cage, the MMA world was graced with the single coolest move we’ve seen to date in the cage: The Showtime Kick.

Even though we’re nearly three years beyond their initial encounter and this bout is taking place in an entirely different organization, this rematch has some similarities to their inaugural meeting, plus a handful of Hollywood magic dust sprinkled on top of it for good measure.

Like their fight at WEC 53, Henderson and Pettis are once again battle for a title – the former entering as the defending champion, the latter as the surging contender, and the last man to defeat Henderson as well.

It’s a fight that many have been looking forward to since “The Showtime Kick” happened, but for a while, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. Pettis surprisingly accepted a fight for the featherweight title against Jose Aldo, leading Henderson to be paired with Canadian contender T.J. Grant.

And then karma intervened.

Pettis got injured, and was forced from his bout with Aldo. A few weeks later, Grant was forced to withdraw from his championship showdown with Henderson, paving the way for Pettis to slide into the vacancy, putting the rematch everyone wanted at the top of the marquee this weekend.

Did I mention that Pettis was born, raised, and still resides in Milwaukee? Not only do we have what should be a thrilling match-up between two of the most talented lightweights in the world, but the champion is defending his title in the challenger’s backyard, and it is bound to be awesome.

Potential Defining Moment for “Smooth”

Despite the fact that he’s won seven consecutive contests, including winning the lightweight title and successfully defending the strap three times, Henderson still doesn’t get the respect that usually comes with being a UFC champion.

That could change if “Smooth” is able to earn a decisive victory over Pettis on Saturday night.

Three of Henderson’s last four fights have been razor-thin decision wins, the only exception being his five-round destruction of Nate Diaz last December. With three of his most high profile performances inside the Octagon having ended in hotly debated decisions, there are a lot of fans and critics out there that aren’t completely sold on Henderson’s standing as the top lightweight in the world.

But if he comes out and avenges his loss to Pettis – in Pettis’ backyard at that – it will be hard to question his place atop the deep and talented 155-pound ranks. As odd as it is to say about a UFC champion, this is Henderson’s chance to really silence his critics.

A chance to avenge a loss, defend his title, and put an end to the questions about his validity as the best lightweight in the business, and he could do it in front of a seriously pro-Pettis crowd? Don’t be surprised if we get the best performance we’ve seen to date from Henderson this weekend.

The Return of ‘The Warmaster’

Heavyweight mercenary Josh Barnett returns to the UFC for the first time in more than a decade to share the cage with fellow submission specialist Frank Mir in a fight that has been a tantalizing hypothetical for a number of years.

Barnett is just what the division needs right now – an experienced, veteran name that hasn’t faced any of the current crop of challengers lining up to face the winner of the impending championship trilogy bout.

Sporting a 9-1 record over his last 10 fights – a stretch that spans five-plus years – “The Warmaster” is one of the most complicated and complex individuals on the UFC roster. With a checkered past and a penchant for selling fights on par with Chael P. Sonnen, the 35-year-old veteran is an intriguing addition to the heavyweight division, and if he can get through Mir this coming weekend, he’ll be a contender as well.

A victory would put the man formerly known as “The Baby Faced Assassin” in the mix alongside the likes of Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne on the short list of potential opponents for the Velasquez-dos Santos winner.

Plus, he’ll undoubtedly cut a quality post-fight promo about collecting the spoils of war too, and those are always great.

Motivated Mendes

In a weird way, losing to Jose Aldo in the main event of UFC 142 in January 2011 might have been the best thing to happen to Chad Mendes.

After coming up short in his quest to capture the featherweight title, the Team Alpha Male standout has turned a corner in his career. He’s blistered three straight opponents, earning first-round stoppage wins over Cody McKenzie, Yaotzin Meza, and Darren Elkins in a combined 214 seconds.

That’s three wins in a grand total of three minutes and 34 seconds. What makes it even more impressive – and scary for everyone else in the division – is that the former NCAA wrestling standout has been doing this all on the feet. With an outstanding pedigree on the ground and developing confidence in his hands, “Money” has been making a case for another title shot, and posting a fourth straight win by defeating Clay Guida this weekend will make his candidacy even more compelling.

On a side note, Team Alpha Male figthers are unbeaten in the UFC this year. Between Mendes, Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, and Danny Castillo, the Sacremento squad coached by Duane “Bang” Ludwig has posted an amazing 10-0 in 2013.

Clash of Featherweight Fringe Contenders

Here’s how great the featherweight division is right now: Erik Koch and Dustin Poirier are considered fringe contenders; guys that would need a couple or three good wins in order to be “in the mix” as Dana White likes to say.

That’s crazy considering that Koch was twice slated to face Jose Aldo for the title in 2012, and Poirier was on the cusp of earning a title shot when he squared off with “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung, in May 2012.

Both fighters enter Saturday’s match-up coming off losses – Koch to Ricardo Lamas in January, and Poirier to Cub Swanson in February – but they remain two of the most entertaining, and promising young fighters in the weight class. They’re rarely in a dull fight individually, so putting them together, there is a very good chance we’re going to get fireworks in the first bout of the UFC 164 main card.

The winner moves a step closer to being in the title picture, while the loser will really need to regroup. With that kind of swing hanging over the outcome of this fight, expect these two hungry, young talents to bring in from start to finish in the pay-per-view opener.

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