Benson Henderson defended his UFC Lightweight title on the Fox network against a member of the Cesar Gracie Fight Team once again this weekend, but it was hardly like his dominant victory against Nate Diaz months earlier. In front of a hostile San Jose crowd, the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion took home a somewhat controversial Split Decision victory to retain his title. I hate to label the decision as highly controversial, since the entire bout was close and the scorecards of the MMA Media members are widely varied, anywhere from 49-46 for Henderson all the way to 49-46 scores for Melendez. Either way, it was a close fight and one that both fighters should be proud of.
Welterweight Bout: Matt Brown defeated Jordan Mein via TKO (Punches and Elbows) at 1:00 of Round Two
Matt Brown continued his impressive streak in the UFC’s Welterweight division and continues to rise from a veteran mid-tier fighter to a fringe contender in the division. This was an exciting back and forth bout. Brown knowing Mein’s striking talent refused to give him space to open up, he continued to swarm the young fighter and never gave Mein enough room to get comfortable with his striking. After landing some big shots in the opening round, Brown got caught with a huge hook to the body that sent him to the mat and nearly finished him. He managed to compose himself and even sunk in a triangle choke from his back. In the second round, he continued to pressure the young fighter and landed some solid knees and elbows in the clinch, one that opened a massive cut that immediately began to leak blood. It seemed to panic Mein who shelled up on the ground and Brown was relentless with ground and pound to earn the stoppage victory.
What’s next for Brown? He’s now won five straight in the Welterweight division and deserves a step up in competition. Patrick Cote recently made his Welterweight debut in his return to the UFC and was successful. He’s a striker which makes this an intriguing stylistic match up due to the high probability that they just slug it out on the feet. Cote is also a former UFC title challenger, so he presents a step up in competition for Brown. Put it on a card in Canada and you’re golden.
What’s next for Mein? He did the UFC a favor by taking this fight on late notice and likely won’t be punished for losing here. Mein is still young and can be rebuilt from this, give him a winnable fight against a striker and let him get his footing back. A bout against fellow Canadian Chris Clements on the undercard of a Canadian fight card would make a lot of sense. So would a potential bout with Mike Swick, who was the last man to lose to Brown.
Lightweight Bout: Josh Thomson defeat Nate Diaz via TKO (Head Kick and Punches) at 3:44 of Round Two
Josh Thomson showed that he could follow a game plan and that he may have solved the riddle of Nate Diaz’s boxing. Benson Henderson used wrestling to nullify Diaz’s striking, Thomson used a game plan similar to that of Carlos Condit against big brother Nick Diaz. Thomson used his speed advantage and constantly moved so as to never stand in front of Diaz for a long period of time. He threw a sizeable number of kicks, many more than is normal for him. He attacked the lead leg of Diaz several times, before switching it up and going for head kicks and then body kicks. In the second round, he tagged Diaz with a huge head kick that stunned him. Thomson swarmed Diaz and was putting a beating on Diaz that had his corner throwing in the towel just as the referee stopped the fight.
I also want to note one thing about this from Diaz`s corner. Although many people may give the corner men, including Nate`s brother Nick flack for throwing in the towel here, I have to commend them for the move. Diaz is known for his iron chin and even seeing he was severely rocked, he was still aware enough to be fighting back, some referees would have considered it intelligent defense. Thomson was landing huge shots and after the head kick he is definitely piling on unnecessary punishment, good for Diaz`s corner to protect their fighter from himself and his own toughness by throwing in the towel.
What`s next for Thomson? He’s a former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion and he was the number one contender in that promotion for a long time. He just beat a former UFC Lightweight title challenger, so he’s definitely established himself as a top contender in the division. He’ll need an opponent to match. Diego Sanchez is a big name near the top of the pack at Lightweight, so that fight makes sense. As does the winner of the upcoming bout between Jim Miller and Pat Healy.
Heavyweight Bout: Daniel Cormier defeated Frank Mir via Unanimous Decision at 5:00 of Round Three
Frank Mir looked impressive at the weigh-ins and said all the right things about switching camps during the lead up to this fight. Unfortunately none of it mattered once he got in there with Cormier. It wasn’t an impressive knockout performance for Cormier, who admitted to being extremely nervous heading into his UFC debut after the fight. Mir didn’t get much offense off, as Cormier used a dominant clinch game to stifle Mir against the cage and grind away at him. Cormier won most of the exchanges on the feet, by using his superior hand speed, but it was far from the dominant performance many people were expecting from him. In the end though, he took a clear cut, Unanimous Decision over a former UFC title challenger, not bad for his debut.
What’s next for Cormier? That depends on a lot of things, mostly relating to Cormier and his training camp. He tried to cut weight for wrestling in the past and nearly died from a kidney complication, but has said he’s much lighter now and has expressed interest in dropping to 205 pounds to challenge Jon Jones. He’s training partners and close friends with UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez and is a small Heavyweight so that makes sense for him. If he’s able to make the cut to 205 he should have one tune-up fight before his shot against Jon Jones. At UFC 161 in Winnipeg he’ll see four possible opponents as Mauricio Rua battles Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Rashad Evans battles Dan Henderson. The winners of those bouts are top contenders just under Lyoto Machida and Alexander Gustafsson, he should fight the winner of one of those fights.
What’s next for Mir? He’s never getting back to title contention, but he’ll remain a big name fighter who is popular and can serve as a great gatekeeper for the Heavyweight division. Knowing that the UFC likes to match up fighters coming off losses, I think there is one big name that makes a lot of sense, Alistair Overeem. I’m sure the UFC wants to rebuild Overeem and a bout against Mir can do a lot for rebuilding the Overeem brand.
Lightweight Championship Bout: Benson Henderson defeated Gilbert Melendez via Split Decision at 5:00 of Round Five
It was a close decision once again as Melendez pushed Benson Henderson to his limit. Early on in the fight Henderson did not look at all like his nickname ‘Smooth’ as he struggled to get comfortable against the awkward style of Melendez. For his part Melendez had definitely watched a lot of fights of Henderson as he incorporated a lot of things that other fighters have had success with against the champion. He caught a number of kicks and used a few to earn takedowns against Henderson, and he used an interesting step in low inside kick followed by a haymaker combination that was finding a home early.
What’s next for Henderson? This one is easy, at the post fight press conference UFC President Dana White announced that the winner of the upcoming Lightweight bout between former title challenger Gray Maynard and surging contender TJ Grant would be granted a shot at Henderson.
What’s next for Melendez? This is the more tricky matchmaking problem. Many people felt that Melendez won the fight and even if he didn’t, they have to admit it was razor close. He’s being passed over for an immediate rematch which is somewhat interesting given the history of Lightweight title defenses. So where does he go from here? He demands a fight against a top contender but outside his lone UFC fight, which is a loss not many fight fans know who the hell he is, if they didn’t follow Strikeforce. There are two major UFC Lightweight title eliminator fights coming up, the aforementioned Maynard vs. Grant, as well as Jim Miller vs. Pat Healy. Melendez should probably be fighting the loser of one of those two fights to try and re-establish himself in the Lightweight pecking order.