It would be interesting to look back at Benson Henderson’s UFC fights- the close ones, not the clear Nate Diaz win or Anthony Pettis loss- and really analyze what the guy is trying to do out there, and what it is about him that makes judges so sure that he’s winning these close fights.
The problem is, with fights like his bout against Josh Thomson last night, nobody will exactly be lining up for that job.
Like a surprising number of major fights, this one was characterized mostly by the fact that late in the bout, neither guy really seemed to be trying to really win the fight. Both guys seemed like they were coasting to a large extent. Hell, in the fifth round of a close fight, we saw Henderson fix his hair 11 times, compared to landing 17 total strikes.
When you fix your hair nearly as often as you actually hit the other person, something’s wrong.
So, we can chalk some of this problem up to a lack of urgency on Bendo’s part. What about Thomson? Well, he reportedly broke his hand during the opening minutes of the fight, so he had less weapons to work with than he would have usually had. He gets a bit of a pass as a result.
But Henderson? Why would a guy who’s fighting to get back into the title picture- a guy who has not been able to gain any traction with fans because of repeatedly close fights that they often believe he didn’t deserve to win- not show more urgency late in the fight?
After my initial viewing, I didn’t have a huge problem with the decision, honestly. Throughout the entire fight, neither fighter seemed to be working hard to really seal the deal. Even in the first round, when Thomson had Henderson’s back for three minutes, he never got close to sinking in a rear naked choke and Henderson ended up escaping, got a takedown of his own, and landed some shots before the round finished. I still gave it to Thomson, but you can forgive me for not expecting judges to score close rounds correctly.
The rest of the MMA media seems to agree with me. While MMAdecisions.com shows that the vast majority of the writers whose scores were included scored the fight for Thomson, three notable exceptions had the fight 49-46 for Henderson, giving a range among the media going all the way from four rounds for Henderson to four rounds for Thomson. Usually, the media scores are bunched much more tightly. It’s also worth noting that over half of the media members included had it 48-47 Thomson, which is still a very close fight.
Somehow, Henderson keeps winning these close ones, which brings us back to my original question: why is that? With Leonard Garcia a couple of years back, it was easy to decipher that Garcia had a way of swinging and missing that swayed judges, who many times may have thought some of his wild punches were landing (this was back before judges had monitors to get a better angle). With Henderson, it’s unclear. In this particular fight, he landed a lot more strikes than Thomson, while Thomson was more active on the mat and aggressive in his pursuit of takedowns. Then again, Henderson was more economical with his, getting four of them without having Thomson successfully defend any.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Henderson’s knack for winning these controversial decisions may be helping his win-loss record, but it isn’t winning him any fans- or title shots. At the post-fight press conference, Dana White said, “As far as Ben Henderson fights go, this is the typical Ben Henderson fight. This is the way his fights go. He’s a grinder, and he grinds out decisions.” Later on, he added, “He didn’t do anything that’s going to have anybody screaming, ‘Oh, I want to see him get another shot at Pettis.'”
So there you have it. Henderson doesn’t really lose, but often doesn’t really win, at least not in terms of getting the respect from the fans that generally comes with winning. He didn’t really draw ratings or pay-per-view buys as a champion, and he’s already been beaten twice by the current champion. He can stay content to keep racking up win bonuses in controversial fashion, but in the long run he’s not going anywhere until he starts winning decisively- which means he needs to start going for broke.