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Performance vs. perception: The Benson Henderson story

UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, left, in action

UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, left, in action against Nate Diaz during their bout at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle. Henderson retained his title via unanimous decision. (Dec. 8, 2012) Credit: AP

What do Benson Henderson, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch have in common?

None of those three fighters have finished an opponent in three or more years.

What do Benson Henderson, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch NOT have in common?

Henderson is the only one of those fighters that MMA people don’t complain about always going the distance in fights. Interesting, isn’t it?

There are reasons for this, one of which is that Henderson hasn’t been in the UFC as long as GSP or Fitch (who is now in World Series of Fighting).

But the bigger reason is this: Henderson has been far more exciting to watch on his feet.
That’s not to say that Henderson is a better mixed martial artist than St-Pierre, just in case you misread the previous sentence.

Henderson has put on six solid performances in a row since joining the UFC, all of which went the distance. He destroyed Jim Miller in 2011, ending his seven-fight win streak and immediate lightweight title hopes. He also battled Frankie Edgar for 10 rounds in 2012, winning a unanimous decision and then a split decision in the rematch, a pair of fights that no one should ever complain about watching. Last December, he pitched a shutout against Nate Diaz, outstriking one of the best boxers in the UFC.

Again, those fights all went to the judges’ scorecards.

GSP last stopped an opponent on Jan. 31, 2009, when B.J. Penn didn’t answer the bell for the fifth round. Since then, it has been six straight five-rounders, full of takedowns and wrestling, takedowns and wrestling. To be fair, though, there was the Josh Koscheck fight where it looked like GSP invented the left jab, and the Carlos Condit fight.

But as terrific and dominant a fighter as St-Pierre is, he draws criticism for being less exciting to watch. Those who can appreciate greatness and technical MMA should have no problem watching GSP’s fights. But those who want knockouts, submissions, blood and drama are often left disappointed after another GSP takedown-fest.

Fitch was the same way in the UFC, and will likely do the same in WSOF. He’s a wrestler, a grappler, a grinder. It got him this far, so why change, right? But he’ll likely never be mistaken for a fighter who will generate highlight-reel knockouts. Submissions, maybe, but even those have been rare.

Fitch’s last submission victory came when George W. Bush was still president.
Fitch submitted Roan Carneiro on Jun 12, 2007. Since then, 11 of his 12 fights went the distance, with the lone stoppage coming two punches and 12 seconds into his knockout loss against Johny Hendricks.

So what does this have to do with Henderson, who defends his lightweight title against Gilbert Melendez this Saturday at UFC on Fox 7? He goes the distance, just like these other top fighters, the difference being you don’t notice it as much as the fifth round ends. Why? Because those 25 minutes are typically thrilling, back and forth, on the ground and on their feet.

New York Sports