Every athlete at the top of UFC 164’s billing competes with a different agenda in mind, at least on paper.  UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson wants to successfully defend his belt again, challenger Anthony Pettis wants to take yet another title away from Henderson, as he did in their legendary 2010 bout from WEC 53, Frank Mir wants to return to the win column in impressive fashion, and Josh Barnett wants to return to the UFC in a dominant manner.

Hearing the men on Tuesday’s teleconference in support of UFC 164, which emanates from Milwaukee next weekend, tells a much deeper tale. Of course, each of the four athletes that fill out the card’s main event and co-main event want to achieve the aforementioned goals, but all four want something else as well.

For Barnett, his drive relies on two things. First, he pushes forward because of the way he approaches fights. Even when he falls behind in fights, no one should consider Barnett out of the fight before someone puts him out of the fight.

“A fighter’s mindset is always ultimate and absolute unflinching belief in oneself. People would have been interested to watch the fight back then just as much as they like watching the fight right now.”

The second force of motivation comes from what Barnett comes with the territory of professionally competing in mixed martial arts now, as opposed to what came with it when Barnett first burst on the MMA scene. At the time of Barnett’s first UFC run, athletes didn’t compete for the money as much as they did to define their fighting spirit for all of the world to see. In Barnett’s mind, the money that exists in MMA now causes some of today’s breed to bring less grit and more of a hunger for glory to the cage.

“I fought when there was no money,” Barnett said, “Most of the time you didn’t wear gloves. We were under attack from all angles and a lot of the providers cut off our pay-per-views. There wasn’t much money or fame, you just did it for a never-ending desire to bathe in blood. Today there’s a broader acceptance from the mainstream public.

“As far as making a living, it’s a far better opportunity than when I started. I think a lot of guys fight not for the reasons we used to fight for. They fight to make themselves famous and get money. They fight for glory while we fought to bathe in blood and for honor. There’s still great, true fighters coming out of this, but these guys aren’t as tough as they used to be.

“They’re better athletes but they don’t have that grit.”

At a time when the then-undefeated Mir moved on his way up the ranks, the thought of Mir vs. Barnett appeared intriguing, but when Barnett tested positive for banned substances and subsequently received his pink-slip from the UFC, the bout appeared all but doomed.

Mir, a submission artist who scored a submission win over Pete Williams on the night Barnett beat Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title, may or may not agree with Barnett’s words about whether today’s fighters lack grit. But he will align with a stance that may shock some of his most loyal fans and admit that the 2002 version of him packed one disadvantage that easily could’ve cost Mir everything if he did opt of face Barnett in 2002.

“I think if we would have fought back then, I’d have to give the fight to Josh. I wasn’t as mentally strong back then. Mine’s developed over the years. It’s something you work on it. Maybe if the first couple submission attempts would have failed for me, I’d have been in a lot of trouble if we fought in 2002.”

The final WEC lightweight champion Pettis knows all about trouble. Even though he avoided much of it growing up, he encountered plenty of it inside the cage, especially in his first bout with Henderson. Though he took two of the first four rounds before sticking the Showtime Kick,  he found himself a tough challenge, and he feel a tougher challenge will present itself come rematch time.

“That was a very close fight. Going into the fifth round, it was tied up 2-2. I didn’t win the fight on one kick, I put the work in the other four rounds to get myself in that position. It happened, but just because I landed that kick I’m not the champ. I’ve got a lot to work for.”

Of course, pardon the champ if he feels things don’t differ in this rematch. On paper, the rematch holds the potential to repeat the first bout, right down to the outcome depending on just one well-timed move. Still, he’ll come into this fight like he came into past title defenses with Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, and Frankie Edgar, and he will look to achieve the same result.

“It’s the same. Obviously it’s a little bigger because I’ve only lost once in the last seven years and it was to Anthony. Obviously you want to get that loss back, but that’s not really possible. If you lose, you lose. It is what it is. It will be nice to square off with him again and get my hands on him for sure, but it’s just another title fight. There’s always gonna be a first time for something, first pay-per-view, first main event, first main card, first time in the UFC. You have to treat each fight like it’s the most important of your career.

“It’s something you’ve got to continuously work on. It’s all just stuff every day you try to get better. Always try to get one percent better. Improve your takedowns, your kicks, everything. I’ve had six or seven fights since then. I’m gonna try to do the same thing from those fights as this fight.”

As far as the fourth defense of his title goes, it goes into Henderson’s mind as another chance to once again show the world why his 12 pounds of gold defines him as the undisputed champion. Thoughts of exceeding the greatest title reigns in the sport don’t cross Henderson’s mind while he knows he needs his full attention on Pettis.  With what he must do next weekend in mind, Henderson will look to avenge his loss, run Pettis’ town, and retain his belt on hostile territory. If a win and any other subsequent title defense mean that he winds up breaking a record, so be it.

“I don’t really think of myself in that light. I don’t think of myself as a Chuck Liddell or Matt Hughes or any one of those guys. It’s kind of weird to consider that. I don’t put myself in the shoes or any of those greats. That’s not my job, that’s the media’s job, the fan’s job, call it like it is. My job is to go out there and beat people up, that’s it.”

Photo: Benson Henderson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.