UFC 164 complete fighter breakdown, Ben 'Smooth' Henderson edition

Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com

MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 164 headliner Ben Henderson, who will finally get the opportunity to erase the Anthony Pettis "stain" on his record this Saturday night (Aug. 31, 2013) at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight Champion, Ben Henderson, looks to avenge his second career loss against kickboxing specialist, Anthony Pettis, this Saturday (Aug. 31, 2013) at in the main event of UFC 164, which takes place at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

After Pettis stole his belt and left "Smooth" on his highlight reel, Henderson went to work. Matched up against Brazilian jiu-jitsu aces Mark Bocek and Jim Miller, Henderson proved he was more than an also-ran, thoroughly dominating them both for decision victories.

Another decision victory of Clay Guida earned "Bendo" a title shot against Frankie Edgar.

While the fight was initially going Edgar's way, a brutal upkick changed the tide, and Henderson walked away with the decision. In their immediate rematch, the decision also went Henderson's way, so he moved onto his next challenger, a mouthy Californian named Nate Diaz.

For the first time inside the Octagon, Henderson looked truly dominant, clearly controlling Diaz until the final bell.

Afterward, Henderson was matched up with Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez. "El Nino" took the fight to the champ, and they battled for the full 25 minutes, with "Bendo" emerging as the split decision victor. Now, Henderson rematches Pettis, looking for another dominant performance like his Diaz victory -- or perhaps even a finish -- an achievement he's yet to reach in the Octagon.

But, does he have the skills to do either?

Let's take a closer look:

Striking

Henderson, a southpaw, fights using a hybrid of Tae Kwon Doe and Muay Thai, primarily focusing on his kicking ability. Additionally, "Smooth" is a mauler in the clinch, where his Thai talents are quite apparent.

The best weapons in Henderson's arsenal are his leg kicks. Henderson has very muscular legs that allow him to quickly crack his opponent's thigh with repeated attacks. Henderson often varies where on the leg he kicks, switching between thigh kicks that slow his opponent down and painful calf kicks. Additionally, Henderson can even kick his opponent's back leg.

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While his leg kicks played a key role in his victory over Melendez, it was even more apparent against Diaz and Edgar. Edgar's lateral movement leaves him susceptible to leg kicks, which "Bendo" took advantage of multiple times, dropping Edgar to the mat more than once. Similarly, Diaz's flat-footed approach to boxing makes it easy to knock his lead leg out from under him, which Henderson often did with his calf kicks.

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Henderson's dominated Diaz with leg kicks so badly that he even began jabbing to Diaz's leg. Once Diaz began to react to the jabs, Henderson went upstairs with a big left hand. Hardly a common technique, improvisation like this is key to remaining champion.

Henderson also has very powerful body and head kicks. He'll occasionally mix in unorthodox techniques like ax kicks into his attack, but Henderson mostly focuses on leg kicks. The reason for this may be that Henderson doesn't always set up his kicks well, which is how Edgar was able to catch and counter so many.

Henderson's boxing is less polished than his kicks by a fair margin, but it's still formidable. He spends a bit too much time pumping an ineffective jab, when he's clearly more skilled with power punches. Henderson lands with a lot of power when he leaps in throwing big hooks, or whirling a heavy overhand at his opponent. Once Henderson starts landing punches, he'll explode into a frenzy of power punches that is tough to deal with.

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After Henderson presses forward with punches, he often ends his combinations. He'll either end with a powerful leg kick, shoot a double, or work for the clinch. While he's exceptional with all three of these techniques, he's vulnerable to counters as he attacks.

There aren't many fighters more volatile from the clinch than Ben Henderson. Henderson is very good at landing hard knees and elbows from the Thai plumb as well as more standard wrestling positions like the over-under. In fact, he may be more dangerous from wrestling clinches, as his opponent has to be wary of takedowns in addition to strikes.

If his opponent successfully creates distance and tries to escape, Henderson will explode with punches and then try to lock up the clinch once again as he covers up.

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One way Henderson likes to land knees is by getting an underhook and then controlling his opponent's other hand with his own. From this position, Henderson can pin his opponent against the cage while delivering hard knees to the body without fear of being countered.

Henderson has an interesting habit of being dropped by punches quite often. This is largely due to his willingness to get into furious exchanges, such as the one in which Guida dropped him. He will also retreat from his opponent's combination's with his hands low, which is how Roller caught him.

Wrestling

Henderson, a two-time NAIA All-American wrestler, can attribute much of his success to his wrestling background. In addition to his ability to explode, Henderson's extraordinary balance really helps out his takedown ability.

While Henderson is capable of blasting his opponents off their feet with a double leg, he's better at driving them into the fence. After he pins them to the cage, he can lift them into the air for a slam or drag them to the mat. Henderson will also use guillotines and front headlocks to snap down his opponent's neck, effectively bringing the fight to the mat.

More often than not, Henderson gets his takedowns from the clinch. He is very good at pushing his opponent forward and then suddenly changing directions with a trip. "Bendo" can hit clinch takedowns from the middle of the Octagon or along the fence, which opens up more takedown opportunities. Henderson transitions between his strikes and his takedowns very well, slipping in trips between his multiple knee strikes.

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Henderson is very aggressive with ground and pound. He loves to stand high above his opponent, dropping heavy punches and elbows. After he postures up, Henderson will eventually dive back into his opponent's guard with a big shot, only to stand back up again moments later. Henderson is very difficult to control, which allows him to land hard shots.

One of Henderson's favorite ways to land ground and pound is to bait his opponent with submission attempts. As his opponent tries to attack Henderson's arm/leg/neck, the "Smooth" one will rip out and unleash strikes. There is always the risk that he does get trapped, but it's been quite effective so far.

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Henderson's aggressive ground striking does have a tradeoff. In addition to leaving him open to submission attempts, it makes it harder for him to control his opponent. Henderson's ground and pound relies on having the space to land big strikes, the same space the bottom fighter needs to work sweeps or stand up.

This trait is perfectly illustrated by the differences between Pettis' fight with Henderson and with Guida. Henderson focused on aggression and damage, and therefore was able to land bigger punches on the ground, but Pettis was able to scramble back to his feet. Guida on the other hand focused almost entirely on control, rarely throwing more than shoulder strikes. While he barely did any damage, Pettis had a very difficult time getting his guard going and was controlled to a decision loss.

Henderson has incredible takedown defense, and on the rare occasion he is brought to the mat, he springs back up to his feet. The reason "Bendo" is so tough to take down is his balance. Henderson can bounce around on one foot until he reaches the fence. From there, he'll fight for underhooks until his opponent is no longer in a good position to take him down.

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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Henderson was recently award his black belt in jiu-jitsu and is quite active on the competition scene.He has done quite well, winning some and medaling in major tournaments, such as the Pan-ams. While Henderson is a dangerous grappler, especially with the guillotine, he's more famous for his ability to survive very deep submission attempts.

Of Henderson's eight submission victories, four occurred in major promotions, and they were all guillotines. Henderson goes for the guillotine by causing scrambles, then attacking while his opponent tries to get to their feet. When "Bendo" uses the guillotine, he likes to finish from full guard. Rather than lean back, Henderson acts as though he is attempting an arm in guillotine, regardless of whether or not the arm is in, meaning he sits up into the choke.

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Henderson is rarely on his back, but it's obvious he's prepared for the situation. In his fight with Mark Bocek, the Canadian managed to sweep him in their fight, but Henderson quickly changed his situation. Henderson swiveled on his hip and went after Bocek's arm. In order to stay out of danger, Bocek was forced to pull his arm out, which allowed Henderson to roll back to his feet.

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Henderson's ability to get out of submissions is largely thanks to his natural flexibility. When he gets trapped in a hold, "Bendo" relaxes and moves with the submission, dealing with the discomfort until he can get out. Many talented submission artists have managed to latch onto a Henderson limb, but "Bendo" is able to wait it out.

Additionally, Henderson is very good at causing scrambles. If he really doesn't like the position he's in, Henderson will explode, rolling and spinning until he's out of danger.

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Best chance for success

In the first fight, Henderson spent too much time striking with Pettis. If Pettis has a weakness, it's his wrestling, and Henderson is in a prime position to take advantage of it.

Pettis will likely try to pressure Henderson once again. To counter this, Henderson must circle, especially when Pettis throws a combination. If Henderson can reverse the roles and get Pettis along the fence, he's in a great position to land knees and takedowns.

From the top position, Henderson should focus more on passing than landing ground and pound. Henderson likely has the more technical jiu-jitsu game and should be able to find holes in Pettis' aggressive guard game. He had success with stacking passes last time, there's no reason he can't again. Furthermore, the chances of Henderson locking up a guillotine or rear naked choke are much higher than the chances of him finishing via strikes.

Pettis really likes to throw kicks from his back, which makes standing above him and dropping punches (Henderson's favorite way to ground and pound) quite difficult. To counter this, Henderson needs to pass as mentioned above, get to half guard, or work from within his guard. Otherwise, he's making it too easy for Pettis to get back to his feet.

Will Henderson prove that he is the best Lightweight in the world or will Pettis show that he has "Bendo's" number?

For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Pettis be sure to click here.

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