With a solid gameplan and unrelenting focus, Ben Henderson took a one-sided unanimous decision Saturday night (Dec. 8, 2012) against Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC on Fox 5 from the KeyArena in Seattle, Washington.
Using his underrated stand up and stellar timing, Henderson notched the second defense of his 155-pound title with an impressive performance that underscored the overlooked parts of his game.
In the co-featured fight of the night, Alexander Gustafsson took a dubious unanimous decision over Mauricio Rua, in a bout where the aging superstar seemed to win the first two stanzas prior to fading fast in the third.
Here's a closer look at last night's action with the UFC on Fox 5 "Report Card," which includes grades for the notable participants:
Ben Henderson: A
A mere 7-5 favorite at the betting windows, Henderson showcased his well-honed standup game, blending in an overwhelming dose of wrestling and ground-and-pound to overpower Diaz to a unanimous decision. On judges' cards of 50-45 (twice) and 50-43, Henderson controlled the action from the top and from engagement range.
While he spent extensive time in Diaz's guard and half-guard, Henderson evaded multiple leg lock attempts from the ground as Diaz -- bent on securing a lower-leg submission hold -- didn't seem to realize that attempting such finishing moves left Henderson in a position from which he could exploit considerable advantages. As such, Henderson dominated an exceptionally talented lightweight with a blend of refined stand up and hard-nosed top control that suggest he'll be a very tough champion to dislodge, even in the uber-talented lightweight division.
Nate Diaz: B
Overpowered in the wrestling aspect by Henderson, Diaz fell victim to the consistent thorn in the Diaz style: that of the top-gifted grappler with the stamina and grappling chops to ride from the top, without ceding position or points. Diaz's striking and radar-like ability to dial in and overwhelm opponents created sufficient buzz to make him a viable lightweight contender. Given last night's performance, and the fact that he's on the very envelope of making the 155-pound limit, moving up or risking more overrun-style decision losses is a tough decision Diaz is confronted with tonight. He's still too talented to lose to anyone but the best. But, it is a real wild card considering how much longer he can make the weight, in addition to fights against increasingly better wrestlers.
Alexander Gustafsson B-
He took a ridiculous unanimous decision against Rua, by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 30-26, all of which are irrefutable proof that judges in Washington state -- as in most states -- are completely full of shit and should never be left remotely near a scorecard, unless it's full of explosives that will detonate and remove them from this world.
That's all I have to say about this. Gustafsson got a faded legend, and got pretty much outpointed, and yet won the bout, which only goes to suggest that mixed martial arts (MMA) is as corrupt as boxing when it comes to bending the judges In The Right Direction. There's simply no way Gustaffson won any round 10-8, much less all three. Somewhere, Jo Jo Guerra, the jack off who scored Hagler-Leonard 118-110 for "Sugar," is smiling.
Mauricio Rua: B
Shogun did little to disparage fans who support him, namely because he fought his tail off and clearly landed the better shots in a good three-round performance, despite being brought in as a faded commodity for the pickings. He was the far more authoritative striker, and while it's scary to think of what a vintage Rua would have done tonight, it really doesn't matter, as a faded Rua did well more than enough to win. Gustafsson got a gift.
Rory MacDonald: B+
Athletic, overwhelming and poised, MacDonald beat up and broke down B.J. Penn in a showing that was equal parts confident and measured. Shooting out a stiff jab and using his range and reach, MacDonald punished Penn on the feet and, later in the bout, on the ground, using his size and punishing pace. Wobbling Penn early the bout, MacDonald stepped up the pressure momentarily before seemingly backing off, knowing he'd need a reliable gas tank to keep the legend at bay.
Now all of 23, MacDonald seems miles removed from the tempestuous upstart who gave Carlos Condit fits prior to succumbing with mere seconds left in their June 2010 bout. Growing into a full-sized welter, MacDonald's promise that he will never fight Georges St. Pierre seems increasingly made to be broken with each outing. Tonight's clinic did little to suggest otherwise.
B.J. Penn: B
Listen, you might think Penn deserves a lower grade. Until you realized what an insanely tough cuss he was last night. Most of his indelible performances have been against hugely powerful welterweights, and MacDonald's top-notch performance did little to suggest the streak hasn't continued. Penn's as game and wily as they come, and absorbed huge thunder -- remember, this is a lightweight who willingly forced exchanges with Lyoto Machida -- without wilting or buckling. Penn's ability to hang tough with the big guys is exactly the reason he's still the best lightweight who ever lived, and the good news is he gave it his all at 170 pounds tonight. The bad news is that the same old story applies -- he simply hasn't the gas tank at 170 to go three rounds against top division players.
Mike Brown: B
Heavy-handed and forever obliging, Brown took a tough fight against Swick and translated it into a career-boosting performance, registering an impressive knockout in the second round. Using an aggressive stand up game and a willingness to engage, Brown got the biggest win of his career, finally scoring a win over an opponent who might boost him into the top 15.
Mike Swick: D
Flat-footed and seemingly miles removed from the sharp showing of his knockout of DeMarques Johnson in August, Swick couldn't get untracked against Brown. Overwhelmed and blitzed out on a second-round knockout, Swick looked like a man sleepwalking. His UFC career definitely could use a definitive win again ... and soon.
For complete UFC on FOX 5: "Henderson vs. Diaz" results, coverage, video and everything else you can handle click here.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst