By Gary D’Amato
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Anthony (Showtime) Pettis is so excited about his next fight that he says his heart rate goes up when he just talks about it.
Imagine how he’s going to feel Aug. 31, when he steps into the cage at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in his hometown to face old rival Benson Henderson for Henderson’s lightweight title in the main event in UFC 164.
“This is everything I wanted,” Pettis said. “It’s less than seven weeks away for me to reach all my goals. I’m excited just to talk about it. Even talking about it, my heart beats faster.”
It took two injuries and the stars aligning — some are alleging a UFC conspiracy — for Pettis to get a title shot at Henderson, whom he beat in the final event in World Extreme Cagefighting history in December 2010.
Pettis, 26, was scheduled to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight title Aug. 3 in UFC 163 in Brazil. But Pettis had to pull out of that fight because of a knee injury he suffered last month.
Meanwhile, T.J. Grant, Henderson’s scheduled opponent, pulled out of UFC 164 with an injury — he tweeted that he suffered a concussion while training — which opened the door for the long-awaited Pettis-Henderson rematch.
“Oh, man, it’s amazing,” said Pettis. “It couldn’t have worked out better for me. Me being injured and losing the fight in Brazil, and now getting to fight in my hometown…it’s amazing. I think everything happens for a reason.”
Pettis gets to fight at 155 pounds, a more natural weight for him, instead of having to drop to 145 to face Aldo.
“The best part is I can pretty much eat what I want,” he said. “I was on a strict diet and training a different style. I’m a lot more relaxed. My weight is right on point. I could make 155 next week.”
Pettis will take a 14-2 record into the fight against the 29-year-old Henderson, who is 18-2 and beat Frankie Edgar in UFC 144 to win the lightweight belt.
Henderson has successfully defended his title three times, beating Edgar in a rematch, Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez.
In fact, Henderson hasn’t lost since Pettis beat him for the WEC lightweight title just before the UFC absorbed the WEC.
In that fight, Pettis launched himself off the cage to deliver a devastating kick to Henderson’s face, a move that has become one of the signature moments in mixed martial arts history. The kick has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.
“Both of us have changed a lot since that fight,” Pettis said. “This is going to be a different fight. I’ve matured so much from the WEC days. I was just 23 when I won the title. I’m 26 now. I’ve grown up as a fighter.”
Pettis said MMA fans have no idea how much he’s improved because he’s made such short work of his last two opponents.
He knocked out Joe Lauzon with a kick to the chin in the first round in 2012 and stopped Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone with a vicious kick to the liver in the first round earlier this year.
“My last two fights have been under two minutes,” Pettis said. “Nobody knows how much I’ve improved.”
He’ll get a chance to show the world on Aug. 31. Henderson doesn’t have any holes in his game and this fight could go the distance.
“Ben’s the champ, man,” Pettis said. “I don’t see this as a quick, easy knockout. This is going to be a great task at hand. He’s a very intelligent fighter. He knows how to win rounds.”
But Pettis can’t imagine a scenario in which he’d lose.
“I won’t let that happen,” he said. “Not in the Bradley Center. We both want this title. He doesn’t want to give it up, but I want it. He has everything I want. This is my moment.”