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The Pettis Kick, Two Days Later

By on December 18, 2010

We knew we might see something pretty amazing in the title fight between Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson. Pettis had shown a flair for the dramatic in his previous fights, and didn’t mind taking chances or using unorthodox techniques to target unsuspecting moments. Still, even that did not give us any idea of what we might see him attempt- and pull off- against one of the best lightweights in the world.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen it. If you haven’t, then by God, go do so right now. So, I won’t waste my time describing what happened, because my words won’t do it justice, anyway.

Honestly, neither will just seeing the highlight. Let me tell you what I did after the fight was over. First of all, for me and the others watching with me, the decision itself was almost an after-thought. Let me repeat that: the decision of a lightweight title fight wasn’t that important anymore. All we wanted was to see a replay of the kick. After the show, when Ariel Helwani was interviewing Dominick Cruz, none of us were interested. We just wanted to see what Pettis would have to say. That kick was amazing enough as to remove any interest any of us had in anything else that happened that night.

I was excited to see how the mainstream media and non-MMA (as well as non-WEC) fans would react to the kick. I excitedly posted about it on Facebook, and added a link to the video the day after. Everyone that took the time to watch the highlight thought it was amazing, ridiculous even. I watched ESPN the day after to see how the coverage would be. I don’t know if I was surprised or not to see that the kick was not the top play of the day (of the day!), but second to an admittedly nice dunk in an NBA game. Dunks happen every day though. This was something new.

They talked about it on SportsNation. Marcellus Wiley, a loyalist to the “big three” American sports if there ever was one, said that not only was the dunk the better play, but that being on the “receiving end” of the dunk would be more painful. Than being kicked in the face? Okay. They talked about it on Around The Horn. They talked about it over and over again.

I always like these bizarro moments, where ESPN and the rest of the sports world suddenly sit up and take notice of MMA and talk about something that happened repeatedly throughout the day, along with their daily Brett Favre updates and NFL power rankings and what not. However, it’s always a bit disappointing, too. They never seem to really get it, do they? And there’s something else, too. They don’t want to get it. These “analysts”, commentators and columnists, they already follow several sports. Pro and college basketball, football, pro baseball, golf, NASCAR, and so on. They don’t want to add another one. Also, they don’t know anything about MMA, and they don’t like not being “experts”.

During his attempt to speak intelligently about the Pettis kick, Wiley attempted to show that he understood the moment by saying, “I get it, obviously this guy’s [Henderson] in shape…” because his only clue as to the caliber of fighter the kick struck was his physique. And that’s the main problem with giving these mainstream media people (and even non-MMA fans) this kind of moment from our sport, this crowning highlight that is arguably not only the most impressive single act in MMA history, but in the running as far as all sports, as well. We share this with them, and they take it, give it a little air time, but they don’t understand, do they.

They’ve never gotten into a gym and struggled to land even basic strikes against another amateur and seen how hard it is to do so effectively.

They’ve never grappled for a few rounds and felt how tired you can get from doing so, or seen how easily your arms and legs can become dead from striking a heavy bag or working the mitts.

They don’t follow the sport, so they don’t have thousands of fights in their memories to search through, only to realize that they’ve never seen anything like the Pettis kick.

They’ve never watched the WEC, and have no frame of reference as to who Ben Henderson is, which in turn is a big part of how impressive the kick is.

They’ve never even seen five-round title fights to understand how rare it is to see someone fight their heart out for 24 minutes and still have the gas to even attempt such a thing.

So yeah, we can show our friends on Facebook the highlight. We can watch on SportsCenter as sports “experts” comment on how athletic the strike was. The thing is, it’s just another highlight to them. They don’t understand the context.

This was a guy jumping off of the cage to kick a fighter in the face; a fighter who was ranked in the top ten in the world in his division by many fans and members of the media, myself included. He did this 24 minutes into a championship fight, and he attempted it with the scorecards tied at two rounds a piece in my book, as well as on two of the official judges’ scorecards. He did something that’s never been done in this sport in thousands of fights, and he did it against one of the best fighters in the world, with a title (and UFC title shot) on the line.

Highlights are great, and it’s good to see Pettis and the sport get another moment in the sun. However, in a way it’s nice to know that fans of the sport like you and I- the ones who have seen these two compete before, the ones that have seen thousands of these fights- are the only ones who can truly understand, and thus, truly appreciate what happened in the cage the other night.

If you want to do your non-MMA fan friends a favor, show them the whole fight. Even show them some of Henderson’s past fights, if they’ll go along with it. Even better, encourage them to become fans themselves, so the next time something even close to this remarkable happens, they can enjoy it as much as the rest of us did.

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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