You’ve all read the interviews and articles before. A certain fighter’s teammates or coach speaks to the media, handing out grandiose assurances about said fighter’s chances in their upcoming bout.
Sometimes they’re true. Often they are not. But it’s just part of the cycle of fight media. Besides, can we realistically expect those close to the fighter to downplay their chances?
And then, sometimes, something different happens. A coach will speak glowingly about their pupil, but now you can tell, deluded or correct, they believe every word they’re saying. If there is anyone who fits the latter mold, it’s Roufusport head trainer Duke Roufus. And if he’s sure about anything, it’s that Anthony Pettis is going to defeat UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson in their rematch Saturday at UFC 164.
“Anthony has this guy’s number and I think it’s going to show Saturday night,” Roufus told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour. “I think Anthony has improved in every area Benson Henderson’s going to attack Anthony.”
As the MMA world knows, Pettis and Henderson met before at WEC 53 in December of 2010. Pettis emerged victorious after five grueling rounds, capping off the final round of the organization’s final fight with a spectacular off-the-wall (literally) ‘Showtime Kick’. MMA highlight reels haven’t been the same since.
The two, however, have had very different paths in the UFC. Henderson has gone on to become champ, and while Pettis has done well, he’s also struggled with injury.
Yet, in Roufus’ mind, a curious thing has happened. Or better yet, hasn’t happened. While Henderson’s and Pettis’ paths have been divergent, Henderson hasn’t seemed to eager to erase the loss to Pettis by ever asking for a rematch. Roufus suggests that means Henderson doesn’t even want it.
“I just think personally as a former competitor, I lost to Maurice Smith in 1996,” Roufus explained. “if someone said ‘Hey, we’ll put a fight on between the two of you’, I’m going to go fight. I just think that someone who lost a fight would want to take that fight again especially in the manner it went down.
“He really didn’t push for that fight and I really believe round six is coming in this fight on Saturday.”
That’s the crux of Roufus’ belief in Pettis’ chances to become the new lightweight champion. While Henderson is likely out to show growth and development, Pettis wants to pick back up where he left off. After all, Roufus believes Pettis is uniquely situated to defeat the champ. That’s even truer now, says Roufus, because Henderson is worse of a fighter in some respects than when the pair met almost three years ago.
“He’s actually gotten worse at striking in my humble opinion,” said the Milwaukee-based trainer. “He’s tried to experiment more. Experimentation, when you make fundamental mistakes, is not good.
“That’s actually what I do when I watch the [Donald] Cerrone fight, even the Joe Lauzon fight. Having done this so long, my thing is fundamentals. I try and attack their fundamentals and Anthony picks up on their making a mistake fundamentally. That’s where he capitalizes with the big finishes.”
Interestingly, Roufus isn’t sure about the lasting impact of famous Showtime Kick. For something as much in the highlight reels as that, you might think Pettis and his team believe Henderson would be consumed or thinking about it non-stop. For their part, they say they aren’t sure. More importantly, they’re not even sure they care.
“I don’t know if it bothers him,” said Roufus of the Showtime Kick. “I know what does bother him down deep is the threat of a guy who can beat him again. Everything Benson tried to do, everything he’s great at, he wasn’t able to do to Anthony and Anthony was able to even take him down in the fight.
“I’ve been watching the fight daily and you can see in the beginning of the fifth round that Antony had his number and I think that’s what bothers Benson the most; not necessarily the kick, but ‘Man, everything I did my best to do against everyone else didn’t work against this guy’. And, at times, Anthony had him in his favorite positions on the mat and Anthony was threatening him on the mat.”
Roufus isn’t just unsure of whether Henderson is consumed by the thought of the Showtime Kick. He wants us all to outright disregard it. Roufus contends that kick, while spectacular, wasn’t even necessary for Pettis to win the first fight. His star student, he believes, just helped everyone remember the bout because of it. Obsession over the kick is just blinding everyone to the larger reality of what happened.
“Take the Showtime Kick out of the fight because sometimes people talk about it too much,” he argued. “I think it was an amazing fight without the Showtime Kick. The way I saw the fight, it was two rounds to two going into the final round and Anthony was winning without the final kick. The kick was just the cherry on top of the sundae. He had already wrapped it up.
“It was an amazing fight. Respect to both fighters. It takes two guys to make an incredible fight. They have a history and I think we’re going to have our hands full Saturday, but it’s going to be Anthony getting his hand raised.”
Naturally, Roufus sees Pettis as the fight’s winner and newest UFC champion. That much is to be expected, but will it end on the feet? Roufus says Pettis is too hard to predict, even as his trainer. But judging from the challenger’s mindset, technical growth and personal maturity, he believes a finish for the hometown fighter is inevitable, one way or the other.
“Finish and Pettis. It doesn’t matter how. He’s going to finish the fight,” Roufus said reassuringly.
“One thing that Anthony has beyond being the champion, winning. He wants to create a legacy. He wants to be one of those guys the UFC wants to make a UFC marquee person. The guy you want to watch at lightweight. Right now we don’t have a lot of guys in the lighter divisions who are huge pay-per-view draws. Anthony wants to become that guy that ‘I gotta buy a Pettis pay-per-view’.”
If it sounds like Roufus is dismissing Henderson’s chances or abilities as a fighter, he’d probably reject that claim. Sure, he has unflinching belief in Pettis and almost suggests there’s an element of destiny to it all. But it’s not true Roufus won’t give Henderson his due. It’s just that in the end, for as much as he sees Henderson as a credible threat, he can’t envision anything getting in the way of Pettis’ moment and opportunity to prove what they believe they already know about him.
“I’ve said it over and over: I think Ben is an incredible fighter,” Roufus explained. “I just think Anthony Pettis is a special fighter.”
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