MMA

Surprise, Surprise – Benson Henderson Wins Another 5 Round Split Decision

When it comes to Benson Henderson many people want to compare him to Georges St. Pierre which I think is inaccurate. Yes, they both have been in a lot of five round fights that have gone the distance. For GSP he has had 8 fights that went 5 rounds in the UFC. He went 8-0 in those fights and the last one against Johny Hendricks was the first split-decision. While Henderson has had 7 fights in the WEC/UFC that went 5 rounds. He went 6-1 with 3 split-decision wins including this latest one against Josh Thomson. For GSP, in all but the Hendricks fight, there was very little controversy around his decision wins. He would dominate and control his opponents to the point some people found him boring, but there was little doubt who won the fight even from his opponents. With Henderson there is almost always controversy and a lot of his opponents feel like they won the fight. Though many people do find his fights boring as well.

I am not one of those and I like watch both he and GSP fight, but I do understand why some people do not like their styles. It is not as flashy as some fighters nor is either GSP or Henderson looking to just wade and trade with you. They use a lot of movement, distance control, defense and feints to set their opponent up. Their styles are also influenced by the way that other fighters fight them. Most of the times their opponents fight more cautiously against them and do not leave them many openings to capitalize on. They are also both too good to take unnecessary risks. This will often lead to a fight that the average and causal fan will find to be boring.

When I watched this fight live in the stands I thought that it was a close fight. It was difficult to score, and I would not have been surprised by a split-decision and thought it would probably go to Henderson. The word about Thomson’s hand had already spread throughout the stands which made his performance even more impressive. When I got home and saw Twitter, I saw a lot of Thomson got robbed tweets and I was confused. I could see how Thomson won the fight but not clearly enough to say he was robbed. The fight was close and I thought maybe the numbers revealed something different from what I saw. After checking the UFC site and seeing the numbers I was even more confused. It was even more difficult to say Thomson got robbed based on them.

The numbers did not support it but there was something strange though that did stand out. Thomson was not given any credit for a submission attempt and Henderson only had one himself. It seemed like there were more than that in the fight. This meant only one thing – that I was going to have to re-watched it and see if I could make some sense out of this. Before that here are the numbers for the fight.

In the striking area it was not close as Henderson landed 114 of 166 total strikes. Of those strikes 91 were deemed significant and he landed 46 of them. Thomson landed 33 of 75 overall and went 19 of 58 in the significant department. Henderson went 4-4 in takedowns and Thomson went 4-11 in that area. When it came to control Thomson had the advantage there with 7:51 of it to Henderson’s 5:02.

When you go round by round the first is Thomson’s. The numbers are very even; Henderson has a slight edge 8 to 7 in the total strikes. They each had 1 significant one and 1 takedown. Henderson was also awarded 1 submission attempt, while Thomson was in control for 3:13 to Henderson’s 0:56. This is easily Thomson’s round based on the numbers.

In the second Henderson holds an 18 to 7 total strikes and 11 to 6 in the significant category. Thomson had 1 takedown to 0 for Henderson but Henderson had 1:11 of control to Thomson’s 0:47 of it. This is Henderson’s based on the numbers and the third is even more dominant for him. He landed 30 total strikes to Thomson’s 2. Henderson had 17 significant ones to Thomson’s 2. With Henderson holding a 2 to 0 edge in takedowns. He also had 1:39 in control to Thomsons’s 0:30 of it.

The fourth round is a tricky one from a numbers standpoint. Again, clear dominance in the striking for Henderson. He landed 41 strikes to Thomson’s 8. The significant ones were closer with it being 6 to 2 Henderson. Thomson did hold a 2 to 1 takedown advantage and had 2:40 of control to 1:03 for Henderson. I felt watching it that it was Thomson’s round as many of the strikes landed by Henderson were little nuisance ones and did no damage at all to Thomson. They did however keep Henderson busy and some judges might reward that. It seemed like it was probably even going into the last round.

Again, another close round from a number standpoint. Henderson held another slight advantage in the striking with 17 overall and 11 significant to Thomson’s 9 and 8. Thomson did have an edge in control with 0:41 to Henderson’s 0:13 of it. Neither fighter got a takedown though. Thomson attempted 2 of them giving him a slight nod in aggression.

The numbers tell us that it was a close fight but they lean slightly towards Henderson. You can also see the hurt Thomson adapting and doing whatever he could to win this fight. I never like to say who I thought won a fight until I have watched it at least twice and I know the numbers can be deceiving so I went back and watched it again and this what I think of each round and who really won this fight.

The judges scorecards reveal more confusion. They all agree that Thomson won round one and they are in agreement that Henderson won round three. Then two of them in different combinations score rounds 2, 4, and 5 for Henderson. Personally I would score it rounds 1 and 4 for Thomson and rounds 2, 3 and 5 for Henderson. Let’s take a quick look at them.

Round 1

This is one of the easier rounds to score as the striking was close in the round and neither fighter did much damage to the other. Instead it was about the control that Thomson had in the round. He was credited for 3:13 of it in the round and for much of it he had Henderson’s back with a body triangle locked on. He was not given credit for a submission attempt even though he was trying to lock up a RNC. In the book Fightnomics by Reed Kuhn it defines a submission attempt as one that is fully engaged at some point. So while Thomson was “attempting” to pock up a RNC he never got his arm under the chin and the other one locked in. Conversely, later in the round Henderson did lock in a standing head and arm triangle and did get credit for the attempt. It is because they were trying for submissions, but never getting them far enough to be considered attempts, that it seemed like there were more of them than they were given credit for in the fight. Still, Thomson won this round but it was close and it set the tone for the rest of the fight.

Round 2

This is another close one and while Thomson did get the lone takedown in the round it was not enough to win the round in my eyes for him. Again, he briefly had the back and a body triangle locked on but Henderson easily stood up and forced Thomson off of him. Henderson was the aggressor in the round landed several clean body shots that were the most significant strikes in the round. You can make the argument for Thomson in a close round but Henderson had the best moments of the round.

Round 3

The other round that the judges agreed on giving it to Henderson. He got two takedowns to none for Thomson. Henderson also landed more clean strikes throughout the round and again was the aggressor. It was the first round that you could see him feeling the effects of the broken hand. It had to contribute to Thomson not being more aggressive in this fight and it severely limited what he could do in the cage. It is a credit to his toughness, and ability to deal with adversity in the moment that he was able to make this fight so close against such a high level opponent.

Round 4

This round is one that I score for Thomson. Henderson is the aggressor but Thomson negates that with the early takedown and scores one more in the round giving him the edge there 2 to 1 for the fourth. The second takedown late in the round leads to a couple of lighter moments. Once again after Thomson got the takedown he quickly got Henderson’s back. Henderson stood up with Thomson on his back, he walked over the side of the cage and smoothed out his hair as he did it. A few moments later Thomson slid his left arm across Henderson’s chin and pumped his right arm in the air to get the crowd going. From there he brought the right arm around and pulled Henderson to the ground as the round ended. For me this gave them two rounds each going into the fifth.

Round 5

This is a close round and neither fighter was able to do much to the other. Thomson’s best moment was when he caught a Henderson kick, held the leg, drove Henderson across the cage and tossed him down to the ground. He tried to follow it up but Henderson got to his feet quickly with Thomson on his back with just his arms locked around him. From there Henderson landed several elbows to the head and body of Thomson. Henderson was able to out land Thomson in this round. Not by a lot but he did land the cleaner more solid shots. For me it was enough for Henderson to take the round and the fight. It is another close round and I can see how you could give it to Thomson.

It is one of those fights that was too close to claim anybody got robbed. You feel for Thomson and there is a desire to give him extra credit for the fight because he did much of it with one hand. But, that is the problem – his strikes count the same as Henderson’s even if it took more courage for Thomson to throw them with his right hand. You have to judge what landed and how effective it was and not the intention behind it.

It is unfortunate that the judging issue has taken attention away from Thomson’s amazing performance. He put on a tremendous display of heart, courage and toughness to fight one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today to a virtual tie. This fight, because of the hand and Thomson’s performance, leaves you wondering how great the fight would have been if Thomson does not suffer the break in the first round.

After the fight Thomson hinted that this was it for him, but let’s see how he feels after a little time. He is coming off a longer than usual and arduous training camp for him and a tough disappointing loss. If he takes a little time and lets the hand heal up we could be looking at a rematch between him and Henderson for a shot at Pettis and the title. From the sounds of things a best case scenario for Pettis has him back in the summer. That is a long time from now and a lot can happen in this division. If it truly is Thomson’s last time in the cage then he goes out showing the true warrior spirit and heart fighting to last second despite a broken right hand.

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