In combat sports, some fighters just have another’s number, and that’s exactly the case with Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson. If the two fateful bouts never happened, we may know Henderson as the greatest lightweight ever, and it could be Josh Thomson who’s challenging Henderson for the title right now.
Henderson’s record is 19-3, and without his two losses to Pettis, he’d be on a 17 fight win-streak since mid-2007. In MMA, that’s extremely impressive for any division,and even more so considering how Henderson’s been through a murderers’ row [UFC and WEC]. He’s ranked number one, and still close to title contention, but there are a few concerns.
The First Concern: If Henderson met Pettis again for a title fight again, how would the UFC promote it? UFC bouts are often dictated by the fan’s desire to see it. For Pettis vs. Henderson III to happen, Henderson would likely have to put on a series of dominating performances, and they’d have to be convincing. This is potentially problematic because as previously mentioned, there’s a murderers’ row waiting to prey on Henderson. Of course though, if he wins enough times, assuming Pettis remains champion, their third meet is bound to happen — akin to Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez IV.
The Second Concern: how much time has Henderson been given to adapt? After their first bout, he had 3.5 years — but the new Henderson didn’t seem to have a clear answer for the new Pettis. Statically, few champions (if any in the UFC) regained the belt in a rubber match, let alone after losing twice to the same person in a championship bout.
Henderson would be a statistical outlier if he pulled it off. But heck, it’s Benson Henderson — the consistently underrated champion that always finds a way to win (*ironically, except against Pettis — note: their first bout was close).
He’s beaten a who’s who list of fighters: decisively beating Nick Diaz, Jim Miller, Clay Guida, and Donald Cerrone (2x), and he edged out wins against Frankie Edgar (2x) and Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce Champion).
Benson’s next challenge: Josh Thomson
Josh Thomson is one of the top ranked men that Henderson has yet to beat, and he’s dangerous. Thomson was a Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, winning the title off Gilbert Melendez in 2008 and losing it to Melendez in 2009. In 2012, they had a rubber match and Melendez won via a controversial split decision. Since entering the UFC, Thomson has picked up a spectacular TKO win against Nate Diaz.
Thomson was about to face Pettis as a replacement for TJ Grant (injury), but as a result of Pettis’ knee injury, fans were forced to wait for his return as well. So here they are, Thomson vs. Henderson — a seemingly fateful bout. Both men are right at the top both are hungry for a win, and the link that connects them best is Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.
When Thomson faced Melendez, Melendez was a 6-1 favorite. But after the contested bout, when the judges’ decision was announced, it received wide disapproval from the fans. Melendez had the bout early, but Thomson decisively won the later rounds. Thomson also received several eye-pokes, which many believe warrants a point deduction — if that point were to be deducted, it would’ve resulted in a majority draw.
Prior to the match, some thought that Thomson didn’t deserve to fight Melendez, such as Bleacher Report’s lead MMA writer. Thomson was someone that’s written-off as a “good but not great” fighter. He had something to prove against Melendez, and was about to get his chance against the division’s new king.
Henderson’s stuck in the shadow of Anthony Pettis, who took the belt away from him twice. Both men have quite a bit to prove, and you can bet that they want to prove it.
In an Alternate Universe…
If we were to use the infamous MMA math, Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez was very close, and Josh Thomson vs Gilbert Melendez was very close… so that means Henderson vs. Thomson could be very close as well. But this is not as reliable as say, Reed Kuhn (Fightnomics) math.
Reed Kuhn: Reach & Heigh (Size), Age, Stance, Pace etc.
These are some of the variables that Mr. Kuhn goes by to determine a likely winner. Thomson is 35 years old, 5’11” with a 71” reach standing in orthodox ; Henderson is 30, 5’9” with a 70” reach standing in southpaw.
Henderson’s been fighting pro since 2006, with his last bout on August 31, 2013 ; Thomson has been fighting pro since 2001, with his last bout being April 20th, 2013.
There’s a slightly advantage for Thomson in terms of size (height and range), while the age, stance, and “time away from competition” goes to Henderson. Though the two fighters employ different stances, the “stance factor” in this bout gets tricky because they can both switch-hit. Also, Thompson has gone 4-1 in his “9 month time-away from competition”.
Pace and age clearly goes to Henderson — he’s consistently gone through 5 round wars in his tenure as a champion, and is well-known for his relentless pace.
According to Fightmetric, Henderson has marginally better striking pace and times getting hit per minute, but marginally worse accuracy and defence. Henderson has a clear takedown advantage: more takedowns, better accuracy, and better takedown defence. Henderson has been submitted twice, but his first submission was when he was just starting out, while Thomson has never been submitted..
Submissions per 15 minute matches though, go to Josh Thomson — *note: Both Henderson and Thomson have been in several 25 minutes matches ; Thomson has been out of the UFC from 2005-2012, and taken down consistently by Clay Guida (whom Benson outpaced).
Coming into the match, Henderson is 4-1 in his last 5 bouts, while Thompson is 3-2. A clear problem may be that Thompson has explicitly said that this camp preparation is one of the worst in his career.
What Does This Tell Us?
It’s probably going to be a grinding match: there’s no distinct striking advantage, but there’s a distinct takedown advantage. While Henderson will likely get Thomson on the ground, neither of them are very likely to submit each other.
While anything can happen happen in a fight, the likely outcome is a contested Unanimous Decision for Benson Henderson.
Thank you for reading. To stay updated on future articles, simply follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook: the links are located below. Here’s Daniel Cormier for a technique breakdown of the match.