Ben Henderson to block words and strikes against Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 5
In a sport where fists and feet come flying toward the face with speed and malice in their bones, it is the mouth of Nate Diaz that has Ben Henderson concerned.
Sure, the challenger Diaz is among the best boxers in mixed martial arts and possesses top-level jiu-jitsu. But, Diaz is also a world-class trash talker in the cage with a penchant for aiming a certain finger in a certain direction.
"His most dangerous aspect that he does very well, that he takes advantage of, is his mental approach to the fight," the champion Henderson said. "His ability to get fighters emotionally upset, mad, ... in the middle of the fight, and then they throw a flying knee from 5 feet away, a mistake, and he's able to capitalize."
Henderson prepared for the talking and will see if he can block the words as much as the punches when he defends his lightweight title against Diaz at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle on Saturday.
Every fighter presents their own set of unique challenges. With Diaz, it goes beyond the physical. He has a bad-boy persona, as does his brother Nick, a top welterweight contender still serving a suspension for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in February.
In his most recent fight last May against Jim Miller, locked in an arm triangle and before Miller tapped out, Diaz was flexing his biceps for the crowd and flipping off the overhead camera.
Henderson said he had his training partners yell the nastiest things they could think of at him during practices and sparring sessions. It took him a few days to adjust.
"He probably will drop some F-bombs and flip me off, and we wanted to be prepared for that," Henderson said. "We didn't want it to be a surprise, like 'What did you say? What did you say to me? How dare you?' and then make a mistake."
Making a mistake against Diaz can be costly. He has what Henderson called "an explosive knockout submission." Henderson compared it to an elite striker or boxer who may be getting beaten up for the entire fight but still has the powerful overhand right that can stop any fight any time.
"He can be losing the entire fight, being held down, held down, held down, not getting up," Henderson said. "And then you make one small mistake, you leave your arm one inch too high, he's able to capitalize and slap on that triangle and submit you."
That leaves little room for error against Diaz (16-7, 11-5 UFC), a former "Ultimate Fighter" season winner. That could be just enough for Henderson, though.
Henderson (16-2, 5-0), a two-time NAIA All-American wrestler, may be the most elusive fighter in mixed martial arts. He is 28-for-28 in escaping submissions since joining the WEC in 2009 and then moving to the UFC in 2011. Diaz has attempted 20 submissions, according to FightMetric, eighth most in promotion history. Seven of his 11 wins in the UFC have been by submission (11 overall).
Flexibility helps Henderson as much as skill does. Watch a fight or two of his and watch his body twist and contort in ways not seen since the "Gumby" cartoon series. He's able to withstand many submission attempts longer than the average fighter.
"It's something I've always been aware of, always knew 'hey I'm a little more flexible than most people," said Henderson, 29. "I always knew it was a benefit, an advantage of mine and I always wanted to keep that advantage. I just know reactively with my body, I can go a little bit longer, I can let it go a little further because I'm not there yet."