This Saturday night (April 30) at UFC 129, rising lightweight prospect Mark Bocek will take on former WEC 155-pound champion Ben "Smooth" Henderson in a battle of talented grapplers.
The Canadian submission expert, Bocek, has won four of five fights and is looking for a high-profile victory over the former titleholder to propel him to the upper echelon of the lightweight division.
Henderson is fighting for respect, not just for the WEC, but for himself. As a former champion, every move he makes is scrutinized, especially the last move he made at WEC 53. Henderson wants to make people forget the "Pettis Ninja Kick" and create much better memories in his UFC debut.
Since the UFC-WEC merger, the former World Extreme Cagefighters have gone a respectable 3-3 against their UFC lightweight counterparts. This bout will be the highest profile UFC-WEC match yet on the biggest stage possible.
Can Bocek submit the unsubmittable man? Can "Bendo" redeem himself in front of millions of viewers worldwide? Will the WEC lightweight division finally earn some respect?
Check out our preview after the jump:
Record: 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Dustin Hazelett (UFC 124), Doug Evans (UFC 79)
How he got here: Mark Bocek earned his stripes the hard way when he studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) under Rickson and Renzo Gracie. He earned one of Canada's first ever black belts in BJJ and actually caught the attention of the UFC on the highest level when he began instructing BJJ for UFC owners Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta.
Bocek started slow, losing two of his first three UFC fights but he built confidence against lower-tier fighters on the undercard. After a very spirited loss to Jim Miller at UFC 111, Bocek finally scored his signature victory when he blasted through Dustin Hazelett's rubber guard at UFC 124 and finished the crafty BJJ wizard with a triangle from mount in one of 2010's best submissions.
How he gets it done: The American Top Team product has gone on record saying he has the best jiu-jitsu in the lightweight division. Bocek definitely backed up that statement with an impeccable performance against fellow submission expert Dustin Hazelett in his last fight. On top of his fantastic BJJ, Bocek also has a stifling top control game and some extremely competent ground and pound in his arsenal. The soulless red-head wants to take this fight to the ground and he wants to do it immediately. Look for the Canadian to clinch or shoot for takedowns early and often until he perseveres.
Record: 12-2 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Anthony Pettis (WEC 53), Rock Johnson (Battlequest 5)
How he got here: Ben Henderson ran through a "who's-who" of the WEC lightweight division in an extremely impressive 18 month year stint that saw him dispatch current UFC fighters Anthony Njokuani, Shane Roller and Donald Cerrone (the second time) with ease. Henderson earned a reputation for his incredible determination and his imperviousness to being stopped by either knockout or submission. He unified the WEC lightweight titles with a guillotine choke against Jamie Varner at WEC 46.
Bendo had a UFC title shot within his grasp but he fell one Matrix-kick short of fulfilling his dreams. He was matched up with Mark Bocek due to his reputation. It will be the submission expert against the man deemed "unsubmittable."
How he gets it done: Henderson is good at everything, but not really great at anything. Stylistically, he might hold a slight advantage over Bocek in the wrestling department but who knows if he wants to tempt fate by jumping into the Canadian's guard. While "Bendo" doesn't have the most proficient stand-up game, this may be the area he wants to keep the fight. His opponent hasn't had the most success in the striking department and as a matter of fact, that's how Bocek earned two of his career losses. "Smooth" may want to pull out the old "sprawl and brawl" tactics that made Jens Pulver and Chuck Liddell famous.
Fight "X Factor:" There are actually two major factors here. The first, obviously, is Ben Henderson's heart. Time and time again throughout his career, he's been put in perilous positions by opponents and time and time again, he comes out on top. It's beyond ridiculous how many times he's fought back from being stunned, choked and had his limbs cranked on. Everyone remembers the insane Pettis kick, but people forget that Bendo survived the kick and forced that fight to go to the judges. It must be incredibly disheartening to his opponents if they think they finally have him and he guts it out yet again.
The other factor is the technical submission skills of Mark Bocek. We talk about Ben Henderson squirming his way out of submissions, but just how impressive are Donald Cerrone's and Anthony Pettis' BJJ skills? In my opinion, the red-headed Bocek is completely on another level of anyone Henderson has ever faced. Believe it or not, Henderson actually has been submitted before, losing via technical submission to Rocky Johnson four years ago in less than a minute. If Bocek can lock something in, Bendo could very well be going "night-night" again.
Bottom Line: While Bocek has incredible BJJ skills, he's not infallible. Mac Danzig actually submitted him at UFC 83 after first stunning him with a big knee. Ben Henderson is primarily a relentless, grinding, ground fighter and if he can hurt Bocek standing with a big combination, he has the skills to follow it up with a submission or ground and pound.
Bocek's weakness may be in the stand-up department, but he still has a lot of raw power. While most of his striking strength comes from ground and pound, he was actually able to drop Frankie Edgar with a straight right hand in his UFC debut. This match could go anywhere and it's absolutely teeming with possibilities. So keep your eyes peeled, ladies and gentleman. Whether it's standing, in the clinch or on the ground, a finish could be imminent at any time.
Who will come out on top at UFC 129? Let us know in the comment section below!