clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UFC Fight Night 60 complete fighter breakdown, 'Smooth' Benson Henderson edition

MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 60 headliner Benson Henderson, who looks to take a quick trip up to welterweight and get back into the win column this Saturday (Feb. 14, 2015) inside the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion, Benson Henderson, will take the journey up to welterweight on short notice to face off with super prospect and overall wrecking ball, Brandon Thatch, this Saturday (Feb. 14, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 60 inside the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

The last six months have not been kind to Henderson. He was doing fairly well on his return path, only to run into the hands, feet, and knees of Raphael dos Anjos en route to a first round knockout loss. Then, he seemingly did enough to defeat "Cowboy" Cerrone just a few weeks ago, but the judges did not award him the decision.

Since a lightweight title shot is now pretty far from Henderson's immediate future, his decision to momentarily step up to welterweight does make some sense. However, he'll have to be quite careful, as his upcoming opponent is a very dangerous man.

Let's take a closer look at Henderson's skill set and see if he's up to the task.

Striking

Commonly displaying his mixture of Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Doe, Henderson is capable of knocking his opponent around the Octagon with his powerful kicks. Of course, it helps that Henderson's legs are built like that of an NFL running back.

Henderson is incredibly effective with his plethora of low kicks. When Henderson fully commits to his leg kick, it usually lands with enough force to stumble his opponent, or at least make him think twice about planting a foot. Plus, Henderson does an excellent job disguising where he intends to throw the kicks, meaning it lands with high accuracy.

Furthermore, Henderson switches up the way in which he attacks his opponent's leg. Starting with his bout against Frankie Edgar, "Smooth" really relied on his kicks to the calf. These rather painful kicks are excellent for destabilizing his opponent, and frequently sent the fast moving fighter slipping to the mat as his leg was kicked out from under him. These kicks also worked against Nate Diaz, although for the opposite reason, as the fighter's flat-footed style of boxing was used against him.

In addition, Henderson will occasionally go across his opponent's body to kick at his back leg. Against Cerrone, Henderson set up the strike beautifully, as Cerrone was not able to defend it. Plus, Henderson was also quite active with his lead leg side kick against "Cowboy," which is an effective weapon when Henderson's opponent moved forward. Though Henderson did use the strike to stymie his opponent's forward movement, he also threw it when Cerrone was standing still, which doesn't have a huge effect.

While his low kicks are clearly the best aspect of his kicking game, Henderson is also fairly dangerous with kicking attacks to the mid-section and head. Henderson often appears to be kicking low only to go high and vice versa, which can get pretty confusing for his opponent. It's also worth noting that as a southpaw, Henderson's body kick can be especially effective against many orthodox opponents.

Speaking of Henderson's southpaw stance, his straight left hand is likely his best punch. Henderson does a nice job getting his head off the center line as he throws it -- look at the photo at the top of this page for an example -- which makes it much more difficult to counter. 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 he's taken some clear steps to develop it over the years. Rather than just pump out a fairly soft right jab -- which was commonly parried and countered -- Henderson used a nice lead right hook to the body against Josh Thomson. Then, he improved upon it further against Rustam Khabilov, when he dropped the Russian with a sweet corkscrew uppercut-straight left combination.

It's unfortunate, but Henderson hasn't really attacked with his clinch game in quite some time. While bringing this strategy out of retirement against Thatch would probably be a terrible idea -- his opponent is taller, bigger, and a Muay Thai specialist -- grinding his opponent into mush against the fence with constant elbows and knees was once a major part of Henderson's style.

When Henderson stays out of wild exchanges, his defense is generally pretty good. As he showed against Cerrone, Henderson has a way of cancelling out his opponent's offensive maneuvers, which can often result in the close bouts he's known for if the "Smooth" fighter cannot implement his own game plan.

Wrestling

Henderson doesn't use his wrestling game all that much anymore, but he's still a talented takedown artist. A two-time NAIA All-American wrestler, Henderson's takedowns are greatly aided by his explosiveness.

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, causing him to crumble down to the mat.

Though much of his clinch striking takes place against the fence, most of his clinch takedowns actually come in the center of the Octagon. From there, he can drive his opponent in one direction only to suddenly turn a corner, while fully committing to a trip takedown.

Henderson is also pretty talented with the double leg takedown. In this case, 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 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.

But it's only a matter of time until Henderson stands back up.

Henderson does an extreme amount of damage when his opponents try to submit him. Henderson will rip out of whatever submission his opponent is going for and then use that newly created space to slam 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. In a fight where Henderson is outmatched on his feet -- a rare occasion -- that can be quite the fatal flaw.

The former champion's takedown defense is generally very good. Outside of his close fight with Thomson, Henderson rarely gives up takedowns. Plus, Thomson's impressive wrestling performance was likely aided by the element of surprise, as almost no one expected "Punk" to look to clinch wrestle. As Henderson proved in his victory over Khabilov, his defense toward clinch takedowns is actually quite good.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

Henderson is one of the more active jiu-jitsu competitors inside the UFC and holds a black belt under John Crouch. In addition to his dangerous guillotine choke, Henderson is known for being a very difficult man to submit.

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 he will capitalize for opportunities during scrambles. 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's eyes are always open.

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 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 squeeze to make it very threatening.

It's also worth mentioning that three of Henderson's submission wins, including his sole UFC finish, came via rear-naked choke. There's not a whole lot of technique to analyze here, as Henderson will latch onto his opponent's neck if he sees the chance.

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 and will leave his limbs in dangerous positions. Otherwise, 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.

Best chance for success

This fight is about surviving the storm and neutralizing Thatch.

Thatch is a tremendous finisher, and each of his victories came within the first round. He's also a gigantic welterweight who fights at an insane pace utilizing strikes that require quite a bit of energy. Add in the injury issues and lack of experience in five round fights, and it becomes pretty clear that Henderson's chances improve the longer this fight goes.

To that end, Henderson's goal early on should be to exhaust Thatch and run out the clock. In this case, Henderson's side kicks to the leg could be effective. In addition, Thatch often overextends himself, leading to easy takedowns. Even if Henderson does nothing with it in the first round, if he's able to force Thatch to do something for one minute that isn't his usual whirlwind of violence, it's a very good thing.

Overall, takedowns should definitely be Henderson's game here. If he can get on top of a tired Thatch, his relentless ground strikes will likely produce a finish, exactly what the "Smooth" fighter needs to get some distance between himself and his losses.

Will Benson Henderson's welterweight debut be a success, or will Brandon Thatch continue to wreck havoc on his opponents?

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania