Benson Henderson and the Smooth Path to Greatness

By Raphael Garcia

There was once a time when Benson Henderson was characterized as the “poor man’s Clay Guida.” This was in a distant past when the lightweights that competed in World Extreme Cagefighting’s blue cage were not considered as good as the fighters that starred in the Octagon. However, that seems like such a long time ago. Now, the best fighters that were in WEC are still thriving and rising through the UFC’s 155-pound roster. And the former WEC and current UFC lightweight champion is due to defend his title against Nate Diaz on Fox this weekend, in a fight that can begin to build the legacy of “Bendo.”

The lightweight division is considered by many to be the toughest division in the sport of mixed martial arts, a “shark tank” of sorts, featuring some of the most well-versed fighters that the sport has to offer. When Henderson and others were brought over from WEC after it was folded into the UFC, most thought that the fighters would be mid-tier athletes that would eventually be weeded out by the top competition. And yet, the exact opposite occurred. Henderson, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, and even Danny Castillo are continuing to win fights on the biggest stage of the sport. Henderson is at the pinnacle of the division, and has the ability to bring a level of “stability” to the weight class.

Based on Henderson’s statistics during his UFC and WEC tenures, he has demonstrated a skill set that can combat many of the different styles that fighters at 155 pounds possess. His size and strength have worked well when it comes to wrestling, as he completes 48 percent of his takedown attempts while defending 62 percent of those attempted on him. Those abilities will be important if you look at the athletes that are currently moving up the ladder within the division. Pettis and Cerrone seem to be the next two names in line to face Benson if he can defend the title at UFC on Fox 5. Henderson has been able to create great battles with both of these individuals in the past, and it will be interesting to see the degree to which that wrestling skill set would come into play over the course of another meeting with either of these fighters.

Henderson’s back and forth battles with Cerrone are well-established highlights of his career, and their first contest was considered one of the best fights of 2009. He was able to weather some very bad positions and pull out a decision victory. In their second contest Henderson was able to finish Cerrone in the first round, but even that quick bout had some exciting exchanges. When he was defeated by Pettis at the WEC’s last card, the fight was almost too close to call (and he may have been winning the final round) before being hit with the famed “Showtime Kick.” Pettis walked out with the title, but Henderson would relish the opportunity to avenge his only loss in 16 bouts in a championship rematch.

While not a power puncher that is known to separate fighters from consciousness, Henderson does have the ability to effectively score while on the feet. He also doesn’t mind standing in the thick of a fight and trading punches, which will be important if he is ever matched against Gilbert Melendez, now that Strikeforce is being folded into the UFC as well. This unification bout is now closer than ever, and would be the most captivating fight available to any Strikeforce fighter brought into the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It would be very interesting to see how well Henderson’s skill set matches up with that of the Nate Diaz teammate.

Undefeated in the Octagon, Henderson is one of the biggest lightweights in the division. He uses that length and power within his striking game, as he is known for throwing strikes in bunches at anyone standing in his way. He struggled with the technical striking of Frankie Edgar, especially during their second bout, and it will be interesting to see if he has the same problem with Nate Diaz who has crisp boxing as well. However, “Smooth” can respond with his wrestling, which he used to dominate another acclaimed grappler in Mark Bocek. Diaz is more aggressive with his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu though, so it will be interesting to see if that will create a higher level of danger for Henderson when this fight hits the ground.

After Diaz, Pettis, Cerrone, and perhaps Melendez, there are not many names left for Henderson to defend against within the lightweight division. The only individual consistently ranked in the top ten that he hasn’t faced is Gray Maynard, but is the “Bully” anywhere near a title shot after coming up empty in two attempts in 2011? With just a few wins, Henderson has the opportunity to lock down the 155-pound weight class like the champions of the welterweight and middleweight divisions, and create the kind of stability that the organization has wanted to see for some time.

Nate Diaz poses an interesting challenge for Henderson at UFC on Fox 5, and this is shaping up to be an exciting battle. With a win, Henderson gets one step closer to the rematch that everyone wants to see with Anthony Pettis, but getting there won’t be easy. However, if he is able to score the win, “Smooth” will have taken the first steps towards the creation of a legacy at lightweight that most would have never seen coming.

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?