When last Saturday night's (Aug. 11, 2012) UFC 150 main event between UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson and former champion Frankie Edgar went to the scorecards after five hard-fought rounds, everyone held their breath.
The fans and media knew the fight had been close, a majority were leaning Edgar, but there was still a shot that the "Smooth" champ would retain.
The judges would side via split decision that Ben Henderson was still champion, but it didn't come without backlash. Even UFC President Dana White refused to admit who he felt won the fight, which many saw as a sigh he felt Edgar won and didn't want to open a can of worms with another rematch.
Henderson had started the fight out very strong, but his aggression and pace slowed down as the fight wore on. His head coach, John Crouch, had asked him in between rounds to pick it up and today, we'll get an inside look at what was going through his head throughout the fight.
MMAmania.com spoke with Crouch about his team's corner strategy during the fight, what Henderson did right, what he did wrong and much, much more in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I listened to Benson's interview on The MMA Hour and he said he didn't really listen to the corner in the latter half of the fight. What was some of the advice that you guys were giving him that he felt he wasn't listening to?
John Crouch: I just wanted him to push the tempo a little bit more. He did a good job in the first three rounds of keeping the pace up and even though we got dropped in the second, the rest of it when he was up, he was doing a good job pushing the tempo. He's in great shape and he could go all day but he was waiting in the middle of the ring a little too much. I wanted him to get after Frankie and push the action a little bit.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of when Ben got dropped, were you thankful that Frankie started going for a submission instead of following up with strikes just because he's so difficult to tap out?
John Crouch: You know what? It's hard to hit those guys. Like when Ben dropped Frankie in the first fight with the up kick, when Ben got up and was trying to hit him, Frankie went in on the single leg. Ben does the same thing when he gets hurt. He shoots in and it's hard to land a big clean shot. Ben recovered quick and it was definitely a great shot, but he recovered quick and Frankie knew he couldn't swing away without giving up the takedown. It is what it is. A lot of wrestlers are tough to put away when they get hurt because they get in there tight on the shot. I was glad that he wasn't more hurt but he did spend a lot of time in Frankie's front head lock. I feel like it's kind of what he does. If Frankie had tried to open up more, Ben would have just gotten up sooner.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The way everyone has talked about the fight was that the first two rounds were one apiece and then the last three were super close. Were you nervous heading into that decision?
John Crouch: Yeah, I'm sort of a sourpuss. I'm always thinking negatively. I don't like to go out there saying, "Hey, we won all five rounds," and then get beat, you know? I'm always super nervous. Yeah, I thought it was super close and I wasn't sure what way it was gonna go. It could have been either way.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So you were the opposite of Benson who was like, "Yeah, I won. I dominated that fight." He was super confident in that post-fight interview. He knew he won.
John Crouch: Yeah, that's cool and he should. There's a lot of difference between sitting in the corner and fighting the fight. A lot. He has his finger on the pulse of the fight first hand and I have my perception of it. While I didn't think he was doing badly, I wanted to be more decisive. I wanted to make sure there was no doubt. It was just a little too close. Yeah, Ben is always like that. He's very confident. He always thinks he's gonna win his fights. He always thinks he's doing well which is great for him as a fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): His most effective offense were those kicks in the beginning of the fight. He was just taking Frankie's legs out from under him. They were targeted very low and he mentioned that you guys worked on that a lot in training. Was that something you guys noticed because Frankie was always catching kicks when they were higher and you just felt like those could land really heavily and he wouldn't be able to catch them or anything?
John Crouch: It was different to see. We had them in our gameplan in the first fight and Ben didn't throw any of them so we thought we could surprise him. If you don't see them much, they're nasty. They take away your mobility. It helps to beat up the wheels a little bit so the car doesn't drive so smoothly. That was definitely part of the gameplan.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now were disappointed at all because it was a bit of a combination. Benson stopped throwing the kicks as much and also, I think Frankie Edgar adjusted his stance and his positioning so he couldn't hit them as often. What were your thoughts about going away from the kicks as the fight went on?
John Crouch: I felt like they weren't pushing the pace as much so we weren't getting in the range to land those kicks. He was thinking of it and he missed a few of them but Frankie is not a world champ by accident. He's great. He adjusted, his corner adjusted his movement and we didn't adjust ours. That's what I was trying to get Ben to do: push in towards him, throw some hands and then the kicks would have been hidden behind his hands a little bit. It was what it was but I definitely would have liked to have seen us adjust better and do a better job. All of us, not just Ben, but the whole team make as good of adjustments as Frankie made in that fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of that, I'd like to talk to you about corner strategy. There's all kinds of corners out there, like Greg Jackson who makes a big effort to calm his fighters down or you've got Frankie Edgar's team like Mark Henry where they want give specific instructions on things they want to do. What are you trying to do when you're in the corner?
John Crouch: I think even when you talk about Greg Jackson's corner strategy, I don't know if you remember when Carlos Condit fought Rory MacDonald. Condit was behind and Greg was screaming at him that it was time to go to war. Even though Greg's really calm, he's gotta be the template for us so to speak. He's an established guy and he's had so many championship corners. I've definitely emulated him. For me, when I watch fights, I like to slow down and rewind to the in-between. I want to understand the corner as good as I can because you've got 40-45 seconds. I'm more where I want to get the fighter's heart rate down first, get him breathing and relaxed and then give him one or two things and that's it. I want to make sure I get him his mouth piece and his water and that's it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I noticed heading into this fight, Benson's usually had a seemingly tough weight cut but this time it seemed a lot smoother. Was that part of the strategy heading in, to not have to work so hard to make weight?
John Crouch: You know, the truth is that Ben's size is exaggerated. He's not by any stretch a huge lightweight. Does he have huge legs? Yeah, he's got huge legs, but he walks around at 175. I have two lightweights in my gym that are heavier than Ben. I have '45-ers that walk around the same size as Ben does. God bless Joe Rogan, I love him, but Ben is not huge. It's not really ever too hard of a weight cut. That being said, he adjusts his diet and he makes sure he takes care of his nutrition. He did a great job with this camp. I wouldn't say this weight cut was any easier or harder than any other one.
He's missed weight on his initial tries because he's a half pound over but that's just because he doesn't like to be under. He was actually when he got off the scale, he looked at me and told me how mad he was that he was under by .6 pounds because "that's a half bottle of water I could have had right there." He'd like to tough that 155 mark the second he steps off the scale and the second he steps off, he wants to be at 160, you know what I mean? It was a pretty easy weight cut, but they're all like that with Ben. he's pretty disciplined and it was pretty much the same.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I don't know if you've had a chance to look at Nate Diaz's footage yet, but he's really looked like a completely different fighter in this stint at lightweight compared to his last one where he was outmuscled a bit. Do you think there's been anything different, perhaps the move up to welterweight which packed on some muscle or something that made him a different fighter at 155 this time around?
John Crouch: I don't really feel like he's different, he's just more skilled. He's evolving. He's in a camp with Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields, his brother and you had better get better from that. He's a young kid, young to the game and he's gaining a lot of experience and skills. I feel like he's been fighting the same way the whole time, it's just that he's getting better in every fight and more refined. He works super hard and he's a great talent. There's no doubt about that.
You can follow John Crouch on Twitter @JCBJJ.
So what do you think?
Would Henderson have had a more decisive victory had he pushed the pace more instead of standing in the center of the cage? How do you feel he'll do against Nate Diaz later this year?