The odd path Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis took to UFC 144

Maggie Hendricks

Two former WEC champions will appear on Saturday's UFC 144 card. Benson Henderson, the man who held the lightweight for more than a year, will fight Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight strap. Anthony Pettis, the man who took Henderson's title with the jaw-dropping "Showtime Kick," will take on Joe Lauzon.

Those MMA fans who have been living under a rock since December 16, 2010, when Pettis beat Henderson, might wonder how it's Henderson, not Pettis challenging Edgar.

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After winning the WEC belt in their final event before being absorbed by the UFC, Pettis was supposed to get the next UFC lightweight title shot. He was supposed to fight the winner of Edgar and Gray Maynard's New Years Day 2011 bout.

But Pettis was put on the backburner when Edgar and Maynard's bout ended in a draw. Their rematch was more important than unifying the WEC and UFC belts. Pettis opted not to wait for a title shot, and lost a decision to Clay Guida in June.

For Henderson, it was a win over Guida -- plus beatdowns of Jim Miller and Mark Bocek -- that earned him the title shot at Saitama Super Arena this weekend. No fighter wants to lose, particularly when his belt is on the line, but the loss to Pettis still bothers Henderson. His laid back strategy late in the bout still makes him angry. Was it the best thing to happen to him?

"It was heart-wrenching," he said to MMA Fighting's Ben Fowlkes. "I was sad, and I'm still sad. It was heart-breaking. ...Every time I'm out there, I give you guys everything. I open up my heart and soul. I hold nothing back. To come up short, and to come up short in that manner, that hurt. But I'll never let that happen again."

Even Pettis has noticed the difference in his former opponent.

"Ben was on a tear. He was killing guys in the WEC. Then I come in there, we go five rounds and I win the decision, and he was back to square one. I think a loss makes everyone a little hungrier, and that's what it did for him."

Pettis beat Jeremy Stephens in October. He will fight Lauzon early enough on Saturday's card that, if healthy, he can sit in the crowd and watch Henderson take on Edgar. At just 25, Pettis has plenty of time to get back to a title fight, and what could serve as better fuel than watching the man he beat take the title shot Pettis was supposed to get.

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