Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight standouts Benson Henderson and Jorge Masvidal dueled yesterday (Sat., Nov. 28, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 79 inside Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul, South Korea.
To prove his decision to jump up a weight class was the correct one, Henderson needed to turn away his "Gamebred" opponent. Otherwise, he was certainly in an awkward position, as there would be no clear path forward for the former Lightweight champion.
Similarly, Masvidal was looking for the biggest win of his career in just his second fight at 170 pounds. With a victory over Henderson, Masvidal would be in an excellent position to start a serious title run.
It was definitely a close one (see judges tight scorecards here).
Masvidal began the bout by pressuring Henderson. Feinting and moving forward with punches, "Gamebred" was looking to put his opponent on the defensive. Instead, Henderson did a nice job keeping the outside angle, and most of the punching exchanges were fairly even.
In fact, that was true for the vast majority of this fight. While Masvidal pressured throughout, both men landed a comparable amount of punches in most exchanges.
While throwing a kick, Masvidal was knocked down by a counter punch, but he was far from hurt. Instead, he returned to his kicking game, softening up Henderson's body and lead leg. In addition, he managed to defend several takedowns without much issue.
While the knockdown has some disagreeing, I thought the opening round was Masvidal's strongest of the fight.
In the second, Henderson shifted the momentum back to his side. Again, the round was competitive and even for a vast majority of the time they traded, but Henderson used a few key moments to inch himself ahead on the scorecards.
Most notably, Henderson went for a takedown to end the round. Masvidal attempted to reverse him with a guillotine, but Henderson won the scramble and landed on top with a front head lock. From there, he landed some hard knees and controlled his opponent until the end of the round, finishing in a great position.
Small moments like that eventually won Henderson the fight.
The third round was perhaps the closest of the fight. While the first and second had some strong, memorable moments for both men, it seemed like they were largely even in terms of effectiveness for the entirety of this round.
Henderson has made a career off winnings rounds like this, and he does it with excellent Octagon control. Masvidal may have been the one pressuring, but Henderson controlled where the fight went masterfully. Before his opponent could ever settle into his range, Henderson would duck under a punch and put Masvidal's back on the fence. Though he rarely had any success taking or keeping Masvidal down, he was choosing where the fight took place and looked in control doing so.
Basically, it was Henderson doing what he does best: winning rounds by the thinnest of margins.
The fourth was more of the same. Masvidal made it interesting by finishing a takedown and establishing the first solid top control of the fight near the end of the round, but even then it was only for about 30 seconds. Like the third, the winner of the round is arguable and was up in the air.
To me, the final frame of the fight really summarizes the fight quite well. On the whole, it was extremely close, and there were to standout moments.
Early in the round, Masvidal used a deep guillotine to threaten Henderson. In fact, he locked the choke so tightly that Henderson was forced to drop to his back and abandon his takedown. It was the single most effective piece of offense in that round, but Henderson soon returned to his feet, and it really gained Masvidal little.
Then, in the final 90 seconds or so of the fight, the two engaged in a scramble until the final bell. Both men traded takedown attempts and escaped out the back door multiple times -- and although no one ever made a definitive statement with a big strike or by securing a dominant position -- it certainly seemed like Henderson was in control.
Ultimately, this fight was extremely competitive and technical. However, Henderson, as he's known to do, managed to do just enough to win the split decision.
While I didn't cover the striking too much, this was easily the sharpest Henderson has looked on his feet. Against one of the most technical boxers in the division, Henderson traded rather evenly.
A large part of that can be contributed to the continued improvement of Henderson's right hand. In this bout, he fired off a few sharp jabs, which has always been a missing element of his game. He did paw a bit too much at times, but overall it was a pretty dramatic improvement.
His corkscrew uppercut-left cross combination, which helped finish Rustam Khabilov, was on point as well.
After this win, it will be interesting to see where Henderson goes from here. He's not a small welterweight, but he won't have size and strength advantage over most of the division either. Depending on whether the belt changes hands soon, we may see Henderson drop back down sooner rather than later.
Considering the fact that Masvidal was scheduled for a three round fight until two weeks out from the fight -- at which point, most of the conditioning work and training is already done -- this was a pretty spectacular performance by Masvidal. Across 25 minutes of combat, Masvidal matched and threatened his opponent, who's one of the best in the world.
Two aspects of MMA were particularly well-done by Masvidal in this bout. For one, his ability to trade kicks with Henderson was surprising and effective. Masvidal did a nice job defending many of Henderson's low kicks, and he landed many hard body kicks of his own. Considering Masvidal is known for his boxing, that's quite an accomplishment.
Furthermore, Masvidal's defensive wrestling is simply excellent. He defended the majority of Henderson's shots, and even when Henderson did complete the takedown, he never once was able to settle into a top position and begin to work. Each time his butt hit the mat, Masvidal was already working back to his feet or trying to escape out from underneath his opponent.
He even turned his defense into offense, clocking Henderson with elbows on the break and coming the closest to a finish with that tight guillotine.
Unfortunately for "Gamebred," he couldn't keep a high enough volume to beat Henderson. Volume has long been a problem for Masvidal, but in this bout it could likely be contributed to conditioning rather than his fighting style. Masvidal was ill prepared to fight for the full 25 minutes, which really does make his performance quite extraordinary.
To sum it all up, this was a main event worth-watching. Easily the best fight of the night, both Henderson and Masvidal put on determined performances that showed incredible skill. If you didn't feel like waking up yesterday, make sure you find the time to revisit this one.
Yesterday, Benson Henderson took a split decision over a very "Game" Jorge Masvidal. Can Henderson make his way back to a UFC title?
For complete UFC Fight Night 79: "Henderson vs. Masvidal" results and play-by-play, click HERE!