Friendly foes Henderson, Cerrone poised for WEC 48 showdown
Ben Henderson defeated Donald Cerrone when the friendly rivals met in October
The rivalry is renewed Saturday when the fighters meet in the WEC 48 main event
The UFC could use a positive night after a string of P.R. hiccups in recent months
There's something I love about two fighters who are really enthusiastic about beating up one another for money.
I'm a sucker for it, I admit. The bad blood stories, the feuds, the revenge plots -- they always feel at least a little bit forced, even when they're mostly real.
But two guys who seem to genuinely like and respect each other, and yet are truly excited about the prospect of getting into a cage and doing everything in their power to hurt one another? It doesn't get much better than that. There's something so, I don't know, friendly about it.
It represents a lot of what is best about this sport. It's the kind of thing you can't fake. It's like a violent friendship that can only really be understood by the two people engaged in it.
I guess that's why I can't wait for the rematch between WEC lightweight champ Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone at WEC 48 this weekend. Hearing the way these two interacted on this week's media conference call, it felt more like listening to two old college buddies planning a fishing trip than two pros trying to hype a fight.
The excited anticipation, the sense of camaraderie, the good-natured trash talk -- it was all there. Even when Cerrone told Henderson that he'd be welcome to come back for a third fight "when I do win on Saturday," all it elicited from his opponent was a sincere chuckle.
Unless you'd seen it, you'd never know these two had already spent 25 minutes desperately trying to do great harm to one another back in October. You'd also never suspect that one of them had lost that fight by a painfully narrow margin.
If you take Cerrone at his word, the question of whether he'd get the nod from the judges wasn't even at the forefront of his mind as he stood in the cage waiting for the winner to be announced.
"I felt like I won the last two [rounds]. I felt like Ben won the second and the third, and the first was up in the air," Cerrone said Tuesday. "I wouldn't say I was crossing my fingers, but when it was over I was just like, 'Hell, yeah. [Expletive], yeah. That was awesome.' Either way it went. After the decision, I went into the dressing room and said, 'Hell, yeah, Ben. That's what's up.' That's what people want to see, and that's how I plan on fighting every time."
Not exactly what you expect to hear from the guy who lost. When pressed on how his strategy will differ this time around, Cerrone said his aim was to "start the fight like I ended it last time."
In other words, get ready for round six.
That would probably be just fine with the WEC in its first pay-per-view effort, and with UFC president Dana White, who said he "can't wait" for this event to help the MMA world forget about the last couple of weeks. After Anderson Silva's bizarre performance at UFC 112 and Strikeforce's embarrassing post-fight fracas on CBS, the sport could really use a night where everything happens the way it's supposed to.
In the case of Henderson and Cerrone, however, matching the performance they put on in the first fight won't be easy. Too often we've seen rematches of classic fights that look like a sad attempt at rekindling an old love. The stars don't always realign just because you'd like them to. Ask Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
So what reason is there to think that these two can, as Henderson put it, "rinse and repeat" with another memorable war? Maybe it's just that they seem to be two men who are on the same page -- two guys who love a good scrap purely for the joy of competition, and who don't need any hard feelings to motivate them.
If that's not the kind of fight you want to see, then maybe you're watching this sport for the wrong reasons.