The UFC Lightweight title was up for grabs last night (Dec. 8, 2012) as champion Ben Henderson looked to defend his strap against hungry challenger Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle, Washington.
Henderson was hoping to put a pair of close and controversial victories over Frankie Edgar behind him. Many felt that you aren't truly the champion unless you can not only defend your title but put on a champion caliber performance.
Well consider those questions answered.
In one of the most dominant showings of his six year professional fighting career, Henderson had his way with Diaz in every imaginable facet of the fight.
So how did the champion do to Diaz what no one else had even come close to accomplishing since the young Stockton slugger had dropped back down to lightweight? And where do both talented individuals go from here?
Henderson made an immediate statement as the fight began, firing away with a pair of low leg kicks which already forced Diaz to be reactive instead of on the constant offense. After some work in the clinch where both men landed some strikes, Henderson took over with repeated takedowns, occasional thundering ground and pound and more leg kicks which continuously knocked Diaz off balance.
Believe it or not, this was the closest round of the contest.
From this point on, Henderson continued to attack Diaz's lead leg, opening rounds two, three and four with heavy leg kicks as his first strike thrown. He repeatedly put The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five winner on the defensive whether it was in the clinch, on the ground or surprisingly on the feet. With Diaz concerned about leg kicks, Henderson was able to mix up his attack and throw heavy kicks to the body and even occasionally the head. Even more impressively, "Smooth" was able to step inside and land powerful punches, even dropping Diaz with a right hand.
Every time Henderson put Diaz on the canvas, a torrent of Donkey Kong-esque ground and pound ensued. Diaz was constantly forced to give up his back to escape the position and was getting punched every time he tried to do anything. Diaz's only real moments of offense in the final four rounds were a series of leg locks he attempted, although nothing was successfully sunk in and Henderson surprisingly even did the split to escape the final lock.
When it was all said and done, Henderson was awarded every round on all three judges' scorecards and even took a 50-43 card just for good measure, easily winning a unanimous decision to remain UFC Lightweight Champion.
For Nate Diaz, his inability to control distance and lack of diversity in his attack was an absolute killer. Henderson knew exactly what he was going to do and had a counter for the attack. Diaz could not get any sustainable offense going at any point because he would eat a big leg kick or be forced to fend off a clinch or takedown attempt. Even when he successfully scored a throw in the clinch, he'd find himself in bottom position within seconds. This was simply a case of never being allowed to get comfortable in the cage. He did a great job of working back to his feet and not getting stuck on the ground for extended periods of time, but even then he was forced to play defense instead of getting that volume striking going.
Potential next opponents for Diaz include the upcoming loser of Matt Wiman vs. T.J. Grant, perhaps Anthony Pettis or Joe Lauzon should they lose their next bouts or maybe he'll be Eddie Alvarez's first opponent should the former Bellator champion sign with the UFC in the near future.
For Benson Henderson, this was one of the most complete performance of his entire career. On the feet, he exploited the Diaz weakness to leg kicks very well, knocking the Cesar Gracie fighter down, keeping him guessing and even forcing him to change stances to avoid further damage. This opened up lunging hooks, body and head kicks and even straight punches to the leg which all connected because Diaz was concerned about a heavy blow to the lower leg. His striking on the ground was also solid, constantly forcing Diaz to defend heavy blows instead of work for submissions and sweeps off his back.
Henderson never gave Diaz an opportunity to assess the situation and get his offense in. It was simply attack, attack, attack, which is usually what Nate Diaz is famous for doing. For the champ, the best defense truly was a good offense as his opponent was constantly forced to play reactionary. Diaz couldn't over extend on his punches for fear of the takedown and he couldn't sit back and try to land strikes at a distance because Henderson was out-ranging him with those heavy kicks to the calf which repeatedly knocked him off balance. He didn't even let Diaz taunt him until the final 30 seconds of the fight and by then, the outcome was no longer in doubt.
The improvement in Henderson's striking may have been the most interesting part of his performance because that part of his game was probably his biggest liability heading into this fight and he outstruck Diaz nearly 10-1 last night.
The most likely next opponent for Henderson would be a big money rematch against Anthony Pettis should "Showtime" defeat Donald Cerrone in January. Another potential foe would be Strikeforce Lightweight Champion and Nate Diaz's teammate Gilbert Melendez. While unlikely, Donald Cerrone could also be up for a trilogy fight if he defeats Pettis convincingly as well.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Did Ben Henderson finally make you a believer last night? Were you surprised at any of the particular offense he was able to put forth? Who has what it takes to dethrone the "Smooth" one?