Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
MMAmania.com resident fight analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC on FOX 5 headliner -- and current 155-pound champion -- Ben Henderson, who will look to defend his lightweight belt for just the second time against Nate Diaz this Saturday night (Dec. 8, 2012) in Seattle, Washington.
Former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion Ben Henderson will attempt to defend his title against Cesar Gracie-trained black belt Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC on Fox 5 this Saturday (Dec. 8 2012) from the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington.
Henderson earned his fame in the WEC. And after three straight wins, he choked out Jamie Varner for the 155-pound title and later defended it against Donald Cerrone. In the WEC's final event, however, he lost a back-and-forth war to Anthony Pettis and, in the process, missed out on a chance to fight for a UFC title when the Zuffa-owned mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion folded.
The minor setback had little effect.
"Smooth" made a statement by dominating Mark Bocek, followed it up by upsetting Jim Miller, and then smashed Clay Guida in his first three Octagon performances. After beating Guida, Henderson earned a shot at Frankie Edgar, winning a close decision and the UFC lightweight belt.
The two immediately rematched, which saw Henderson once again come out on top, this time via razor-thin decision.
Does "Bendo" have the skills to dominate a very game Diaz this weekend and solidify his hold on the Lightweight division?
Let's take a closer look:
"Smooth" has earned a black belt in Taekwondo, and has developed a savage Muay Thai attack, too. Henderson uniquely meshes these two styles, making him very dangerous at the kicking range and the clinch.
From the kicking range, Henderson likes to throw a high volume of leg and body kicks. He likes to brutalize his opponents from the outside, combining powerful round house kicks with flashy karate techniques like ax kicks, completing his range attack with a stiff jab. In the first round of his second title fight with Frankie Edgar, Henderson knocked "The Answer" off balance multiple times with brutal leg kicks.
In fact, Henderson discouraged Edgar's movement in both fights with kicks and wouldn't have won the fight without them.
When Henderson decides to engage, he likes to follow up his jab with a straight left hand. If "Bendo" continues his combination, he will chain hooks into his attack. Henderson's combinations rarely exceed four punches at range, choosing to save his long combinations for a brawl, or when his opponent is trapped against the cage.
After hurting his opponent with kicks or punches, Henderson likes to clinch. To do this, he will often charge forward with a flurry of straight punches in an attempt to get his opponent to back into the cage. Closing the distance is perhaps the weakest part of Henderson's striking game because it leaves him open to counters, and Edgar showed that his clinch could be avoided with proper.
Once Henderson gets the clinch, he absolutely destroys his opponent. He is incredibly aggressive with knees and elbows. Henderson loves to grab a Muay Thai plomb and go off with knees to the head, or let go and attack with elbows or punches. Clinching with Henderson also presents the constant threat of a takedown, opening up his brutal Muay Thai even more. One of Henderson's best attacks from the clinch is when he gets one under hook, and grabs his opponents hand, pinning it at their side. From this position, his opponent is defenseless, and Henderson will land numerous knees to the ribs.
Henderson's striking has some pretty major defense flaws. He gets sucked into brawls easily, and doesn't move his head. Clay Guida -- who isn't known for his power -- managed to drop Henderson after suckering him into a brawl.
Henderson has a terrible habit of dropping his hands while he backs up, or when he thinks his opponents combination is over. Shane Roller and Edgar both capitalized on this, dropping Henderson as a results. This flaw is also what allowed Anthony Pettis to land his "Showtime Kick," which essentially cost Henderson his WEC title.
Henderson is a two-time NAIA All American wrestler. His overall wrestling is very good, and is complemented by his incredible balance and scrambling skills.
A majority of Henderson's takedowns come from the clinch. He is very good at pressuring his opponent into the fence, and then suddenly changing directions with a trip. Henderson transitions between his strikes and his takedowns very well, waiting for his opponent to cover up before he attempts a trip or double leg.
Henderson doesn't have a very explosive blast double leg, but he does have very good drive. Henderson can push his opponents around with a double leg until they lose their balance or make a mistake. He also likes to use a guillotine/front head lock to drag his opponent to the mat.
Once Henderson gets his opponent to the ground, he brutalizes them with ground and pound. He loves to posture up over his opponent to deliver punches and elbows. Henderson is especially violent when his opponent is trying to threaten with a submission and forgets to protect his face.
While he generally hurts his opponents from the top more than most fighters, there is a trade off: Henderson is unable to control a fighter from the top as well as some grinders. A perfect example of this is his fight with Pettis. Henderson was able to take down Pettis often, but was too intent on hurting him to control him, and it ended up losing him the fight.
Henderson's takedown defense and balance is spectacular. He is able to hop around until his opponent's takedown loses steam, or until he gets an under hook. On the rare occasions where Henderson is taken down, he quickly scrambles back to his feet.
Ben Henderson is a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, and recently took third place in his division at the Gi Worlds, a major tournament. Henderson's ground game has become famous for his guillotines and his ability to survive deep submissions.
When Henderson does the guillotine, he prefers to finish from full guard. He likes to finish the choke like he is attempting an arm in guillotine, regardless of whether or not the arm is in. Instead of arching back, a common way to finish, he leans into the neck, in a movement similar to a sit up.
Henderson's ability to get of dangerous submissions comes from his flexibility, relaxed state of mind and scrambling skills. Henderson is naturally very flexible, and the fact that he is relaxed while he fights only aids to that. He has been caught in nasty submissions by skilled fighters like Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller, but is able to stay calm and bend his way out.
Henderson is very good at causing scrambles when he is in dangerous spots. Every time Mark Bocek attempted to advance position on Henderson, "Smooth" would counter, create space and end up on top doing damage. Bocek couldn't keep up with Henderson and it cost him the fight.
While Henderson is very good at getting out of submissions, getting trapped that often is not a good thing. He is too reckless with his ground and pound, constantly leaving out his neck and limbs. If he isn't more cautious, he will eventually get caught.
Henderson is a very aggressive fighter, skilled at attacking when his opponent isn't expecting it. Many of these opportunities appear when his opponent is still transitioning from his last move. For example, Henderson will often spend time trying to trip his opponent from the clinch, only to step away and let loose a violent combination.
Henderson also capitalizes on failed submission attempts. Whenever his opponent goes for a submission, Henderson will scramble out and come up on top, then land violent punches. Should they attack his feet, Henderson will batter them, forcing a re-evaluation of their strategies.
Best chance for success
Henderson needs to strike with leg kicks early and often. Don't bother setting them up because Diaz isn't going to check them. This is a five round fight, and Henderson can lock down the late rounds if Diaz can't walk straight.
Henderson needs to avoid getting into long boxing exchanges. As a matter of fact, I'd recommend he disregard everything except his jab. If Henderson can land his jab with consistency, it will help prevent Diaz from overwhelming him with boxing and open up even more leg kicks.
If Henderson can take down Diaz, he should, but with great caution. He should stick to single-leg takedowns, and under no circumstance should he slam Diaz. After getting Diaz down, it is imperative he is less aggressive with his ground and pound. Diaz is better off of his back than any of Henderson's past opponents, and Henderson doesn't want Diaz cranking on his limbs.
Henderson should follow a constant pattern of jabs, leg kicks and takedowns. Diaz is not the opponent to try risky or fancy techniques against -- he's too dangerous. If he can do this without getting caught, he will win the decision.
Will Ben Henderson defend his title a second time, or will Nate Diaz step out of his brother's shadow and bring the title back to Stockton?