Former UFC champs get legacy trilogy… in Karate

An unexpected trilogy bout has emerged between former UFC champions.

By: Zane Simon | 1 month ago
Former UFC champs get legacy trilogy… in Karate
Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson in their UFC title fight. | Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

At a certain point, the MMA careers of Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson were practically defined in relation to one another. After winning the undisputed WEC lightweight championship against Jamie Varner back in January of 2010, Henderson faced off against fresh faced top contender Anthony Pettis in what would be the final event in the history of World Extreme Cagefighting.

WEC 53 became a crowning moment for Pettis, defeating Henderson via unanimous decision on the back of an electrifying 5th round flying roundhouse kick off the cage wall, forever since known as the ‘Showtime Kick’. That move cemented Pettis place as one of the most thrilling strikers in all of MMA.

Surprisingly, however, it would be Henderson that would capture gold inside the UFC Octagon first. The MMA Lab product ran out to three straight wins in the world’s largest MMA promotion, earning him a UFC title shot against then-champion Frankie Edgar. After two closely contested bouts against the Answer, ‘Smooth’ was definitively king of the lightweight division. A crown he would defend twice more before running smack dab into none other than Anthony Pettis.

The two men never met in the cage again. Henderson left the UFC three years later, making the jump over to Bellator. Pettis left the Endeavor-owned promotion in 2021, signing with the PFL. Now it appears both men have the freedom to pursue other options.

MMA: UFC 164-Henderson vs Pettis Aug 31, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Benson Henderson (left) fights Anthony Pettis during the UFC-164 bout at BMO Harris Bradley Center. at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee BMO Harris Bradley Center WI USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY 7411128
BennyxSieu / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

Karate Combat announces Pettis vs. Henderson 3

Former UFC champion Benson Henderson’s exit from Bellator was made clear earlier this year, following a loss to Usman Nurmagomedov in the quarterfinal round of BEllator’s lightweight Grand Prix. After the defeat, the 39-year-old announced his retirement from mixed martial arts. Though clearly not from competition altogether. In the time since, he’s competed at the ADCC Arizona Open and took a professional grappling bout against Nieman Gracie at ADXC 1 just back on October 20th.

For Pettis, his current contract status with the PFL seems a bit more murky. The longtime Duke Roufus protege has competed five times for his new promotion since signing two-and-a-half years ago, putting together an inauspicious 1-4 record in the process. Following his August 5th defeat at the hands of former UFC talent Stevie Ray, Pettis made his pro-boxing debut, defeating onetime light heavyweight legend Roy Jones Jr. via majority decision under Jorge Masvidal’s Gamebred boxing banner.

MMA Fighting reports that Pettis and Henderson are set to meet for the third time on December 15th at Karate Combat 43 in Las Vegas. The bout will be contested at a catchweight of 170 lbs. since Karate Combat sets their welterweight division at 165 and their middleweight division at 185.

“I am excited to announce my next endeavor with the Karate Combat family,” Pettis said in a statement announcing the news. “I am returning to my traditional martial arts roots for this one. I am the most complete and exciting striker in martial arts and I will show the world where my expertise in MMA comes from. I want to help grow this sport and I can’t wait to put on a show for this organization. It’s Showtime!”

MMA: UFC 164-Henderson vs Pettis Aug 31, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Benson Henderson (top) fights Anthony Pettis during the UFC-164 bout at BMO Harris Bradley Center. at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee BMO Harris Bradley Center WI USA, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY 7411129
Benny Sieu / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

Do these ex-UFC champs even know Karate?

The PFL has expressed recent openness in allowing fighters still under contract with the organization to compete in sports other than MMA. Most notably, PFL athlete (and former UFC champ) Francis Ngannou is set to take on Tyson Fury in a boxing match this coming weekend. So perhaps that’s why this fight between Henderson and Pettis is happening under Karate Combat rules.

It certainly doesn’t seem to be because either man is a credentialed athlete in the Japanese martial art.

Both Pettis and Henderson started training TaeKwonDo at a young age, with Pettis rising to the rank of 3rd degree black belt in the art before ever making the move to MMA. While the longtime Roufusport talent has apparently dabbled in Capoeira, his other longtime martial arts passion seems to have been for grappling, earning his black belt in BJJ under Daniel Wanderley back in 2018.

After earning his own black belt in TaeKwonDo, Henderson made the dive into wrestling as a high schooler, going on to become an NAIA All-American while studying at Dana College in Nebraska. Henderson earned his black belt in BJJ back in 2013 from his longtime MMA coach John Crouch.

As of yet, only one other match has been made official for Karate Combat 43, a bout between Chinzo Machida (brother to former UFC champion Lyoto Machida) and former IKF light middleweight champion kickboxer Shannon Hudson.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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