Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion, Benson Henderson, will look to create a new win streak by defeating well-rounded veteran, Jorge Masvidal, this Saturday (Nov. 28, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 79 inside Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul, South Korea.
After losing his title to Anthony Pettis, Henderson wasted little time jumping back on the comeback trail. At first, he found solid success, taking a decision victory over Josh Thomson and becoming the first man to finish Rustam Khabilov.
However, Henderson ran into a wall, and that wall was named Rafael dos Anjos. While it's obviously more excusable with some hindsight, it was quite an upset at the time. Then, Henderson lost a highly controversial decision to longtime rival Donald Cerrone and found himself without a clear path going forward.
As it turned out, Welterweight was the answer. The "Smooth" fighter made quite an impression by taking out Brandon Thatch on short-notice, and he's planning to roll that into more momentum here.
Let's take a look at the former champion's skill set.
Known for his exceptionally strong lower body, Henderson is an experienced Southpaw that draws from both Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Doe. Those martial arts both put a heavy emphasis on kicking, which is likely the most effective aspect of Henderson's striking game.
In particular, Henderson is at his best when he's knocking opponents around the Octagon with a variety of low kicks. When Henderson fully commits to his leg kick, it often lands hard enough to cause his opponent to stumble, limiting their ability to return fire or circle out of the way. Plus, Henderson does an excellent job disguising where he intends to throw the kicks, meaning it lands with high accuracy.
In fact, Henderson's style of landing kicks is more often misdirection than punch set ups. It's not usually difficult to tell when Henderson is about to kick, but he will feint the kick high before chopping low, and vice-versa. Considering the punishment for guessing wrong is a full power kick, that's a very uncomfortable game for his opponent to play.
To make himself even more unpredictable, Henderson has numerous ways to beat up his opponent's lead leg. For example, Henderson really relied on his kicks to the calf against Frankie Edgar. These especially low leg kicks are difficult to catch, painful, and do an excellent job knocking opponent's off-balance. This worked well on Edgar because of his constant lateral movement, as Edgar was rarely in position to absorb the kick.
Later on, Henderson abused Nate Diaz's leg with the same technique. However, it was effective for the opposite reason, as Diaz's flat-footed style always keeps him in bad position to absorb low kicks (GIF).
In addition, Henderson will occasionally go across his opponent's body to dig into the back leg (GIF). His greatest success yet with that strike came against Donald Cerrone in their third bout. Henderson set up the strike beautifully, as Cerrone was never able to check or fully avoid the kick.
Finally, Henderson began to work on his lead leg side kick against "Cowboy," which is an effective weapon against an opponent intent on moving forward.. Though Henderson did use the strike in that fashion successfully, he also threw it when Cerrone was standing still, which rather limits its effectiveness.
Though low kicks are his specialty, Henderson commonly kicks to the mid-section and head as well. As mentioned, he feints directions often, so both threats need to dangerous in order for that setup to work. It's also worth noting that as a Southpaw, Henderson's body kick can be especially effective against many orthodox opponents.
As is the case with most Southpaws, Henderson's straight left hand is likely his best punch. Henderson does a nice job getting his head off the center line as he throws it, which makes the strike more difficult to counter and allows Henderson to angle off. Since Henderson throws his left so frequently, he began to mix it up a bit, notably against Gilbert Melendez, instead attacking with a left elbow.
Henderson's lead hand has never been his best weapon, but it's definitely become a more formidable weapon. Rather than just pump out a fairly soft right jab for no real reason -- which was commonly parried and countered -- Henderson debuted a nice lead right hook to the body against Josh Thomson. He continued to improve upon it from there, and it showed against Khabilov when he stunned the Russian with a corkscrew uppercut-straight left combination (GIF).
Though I won't go into detail because it's been a number of years since Henderson has employed this part of his game, it should be mentioned that Henderson is -- or perhaps was -- a fantastic clinch striker who really excelled at ripping into his opponent with knees, punches, and elbows after forcing them into the fence.
When Henderson stays out of wild exchanges, his defense is generally pretty good. Above all else, Henderson has a way of cancelling out his opponent's offense and rendering them ineffective. If he's then able to utilize his own game plan, Henderson looks great. Otherwise, it's going to be one of those extremely close fights that Henderson is somewhat known for.
For the first time in a while, Henderson really relied on his wrestling in his last fight. A two-time NAIA All-American wrestler, Henderson is a very talented fighter, and his takedowns are greatly aided by his explosive drive and powerful legs.
Inside the clinch, Henderson is very good with his body-lock takedowns. By hiding his attempts to grab underhooks with dirty boxing, Henderson is usually able to secure the necessary grip. Then, he cinches it up tighter and squeezes down on his opponent's waist, allowing him to force his opponent to the mat.
Despite the fact that Henderson does most of his clinch striking up against the fence, he usually lands his takedowns in the center of the Octagon. Since there's plenty of space, he can drive his opponent backwards and off-balance before attacking with an outside trip (GIF).
Henderson possesses a strong double leg takedown as well (GIF). For this technique, Henderson generally does better against the fence, where he can get in excellent position to lift and slam his opponent. Plus, Henderson can transition back into the clinch if he feels out of position or wants to continue working his clinch strikes.
Though he's not a potent finisher, Henderson's ground striking is excellent. This is in large part thanks to his posture, as Henderson is very difficult to contain within guard. Instead, he quickly explodes to his feet -- which admittedly can open up opportunities for his opponent -- but will also allow Henderson to land hard shots with less difficulty. Henderson mixes up his strikes to the head and body well, and he'll often surprise his foe by forsaking his standing position with a diving punch.
Henderson also does a ton of damage when his opponents try to submit him. Henderson does a find job exploding out of submission holds, and he'll then use that newly created space to reign over his foe with punches and elbows.
There is a trade-off to Henderson's aggression. Since he's creating space in order to do damage, his opponent can also use that space, either to attack with submissions or stand up. That's usually not much of a problem since Henderson is comfortable on his feet as well, but if he's having a hard time in that area, it can come back to bite him.
The former champion's takedown defense is excellent. Outside of his close fight with Thomson, Henderson rarely gives up takedowns or is held down for more than a couple moments. On the whole, that fight is something of an outlier for Henderson's defensive wrestling, as his defense from the clinch -- as he proved immediately following the Thomson fight -- is very strong. In all likelihood, Henderson was simply surprised by Thomson's game plan, as few expected him to go into the fight with such a takedown-heavy game plan.
A jiu-jitsu black belt, Henderson is actually fairly active in BJJ competitions as well, competing in regional events and prestigious tournaments like ADCC. For the most part, Henderson is known for two things: his dangerous guillotine choke and incredible submission defense.
Each of Henderson's submission victories inside the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) promotion came via guillotine. Henderson does not look to force the choke but instead capitalizes on any opportunity that allows him to jump on the neck during a scramble. Whether his opponent is trying to stand up and leaves his neck out or Henderson uses a stepping knee to create space during a takedown attempt, Henderson is always ready to commit to the choke (GIF).
In order to finish, Henderson sits up into the choke. He basically does the arm-in guillotine finish regardless of whether or not the arm is actually in. The benefit of this choice of finish is that Henderson can more easily finish the submission from full guard. When using a high elbow guillotine, which is perhaps the most popular way to finish the guillotine, it's better to be off to the side a bit more with an open guard. Though a quicker and more efficient choke, it can allow the top man to spin out. Henderson's version does not have this issue, and he still has the powerful squeeze to make it extremely dangerous.
More recently, Henderson has been hunting for the rear naked choke. There's not a ton to analyze here, as Henderson simply picked the right moment to hunt for the finish. Opposite Khabilov, he immediately went to the back and choke after rocking "The Tiger" (GIF). Against Thatch, Henderson simply exhausted his opponent before finding the opening.
Defensively, Henderson's incredible flexibility as well as his ability to relax in tight holds make him a difficult man to tap. He's spent time in the dangerous guards of fighters like Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz and came out unscathed, and even Anthony Pettis had to land a few soul-stealing body kicks before catching Henderson in a quick arm bar.
However, Henderson definitely puts himself at risk with his ground and pound. He's confident in his submission defense, but that confidence causes him to take chances. If he maintained perfect hand position along with his posture, no one would know just how flexible Henderson's joints are.
While staying calm and working out of bad positions is undoubtedly effective, it's not exactly a safe way to avoid submissions. In general, never being in those dangerous positions at all is the far better defense, as Henderson plays such a dangerous game that a single mistake can cost him the fight.
As mentioned in my analysis of Jorge Masvidal, this is a match up of two extremely composed fighters; men who have been put in absurd situations yet remain unfazed. Beyond their similar approach to the fight game, it's also a battle of men looking for a home. Both Henderson and Masvidal have moved past the lightweight division -- seemingly for good -- but only one can prove that he's still a major player in his new division.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.