Ben Henderson is the mixed martial arts version of Dennis the Menace. He gets in an awful lot of trouble, but due to a congeries of technical flaws from his opponents, his amazing flexibility and incredible calm under pressure, Bendo always gets away. Even while knowing this, his opponents have continually found themselves unable to resist the opportunities to go for the kill and continually frustrated in actually finishing Henderson.
Frankie Edgar, the man Henderson is challenging for the UFC lightweight strap, is similarly composed of iron will amalgamated with fine technical skill and powered by the heart of a fiercely courageous animal that we usually call a lion for whatever nonsensical reasons. The two highly entertaining lightweights will face each other this weekend in a battle that is certain to test who has the most successful gameplan, the best skills and the most resilience.
This Part Two continues the Judo Chop examination of Henderson's miraculous ability to escape sudden danger and to patiently work free of troublesome submissions in the now-legendary scrap with Anthony Pettis and the fierce domination of Mark Bocek. In this installment, an in-depth breakdown of three more Benson Henderson fights will be combined with Grappo's amazing GIFS.
The theme that presents itself most in this two part Chop is that despite possessing a smart and skilled ground game - as the bronze medal at the 2011 IBJJF Worlds as a brown belt testifies - Henderson is quite reckless in presenting a limb or his neck for opponents to latch onto. His skills are often employed in getting out of submissions, rather than avoiding them altogether. The virtues of his frenetic work rate outside the submissions and the ability to keep base and strike from guard have thus far more than made up for the time spent working free of danger.
Hit the jump to see the examination of the ferocious battle with Jim Miller and the hairy fight with Clay Guida, while we end by looping back to the stars-in-the-making bouts between Henderson and Donald Cerrone at WEC 48 and WEC 43 to find some of the better gumbyesque escapes in Henderson's career.
After the proclamation that the WEC held no chumps that was the drubbing of Mark Bocek at UFC 129, Henderson faced the rugged Jim Miller at UFC on Versus 5. Miller has made a very solid career out of being an incredibly tough grinder who swiftly snatches limbs and necks whenever his opponent makes a tiny mistake. Bendo makes lots of those mistakes, but hadn't paid for them yet, so the matchmaking was rather sublime. The bout was framed as one of the last obstacles for Miller on his march to the title, as he came in with a seven fight winning streak, and for Henderson as a measure of how good the WEC lightweights really were after seeing Kamal Shalorus and Anthony Pettis lose in recent months.
Bendo wrecked Miller's title shot hopes with a barbarously physical performance that saw Miller trade positions for unsuccessful submissions time after time only to be clubbed bloody with all the anger and spirit Henderson could muster. It was perhaps one of the most impressive clashes of pure will the division had seen in a while and Miller fought tooth and nail to try and finish Bendo before time ran out. Brent Brookhouse and I scored the fight 29-28 Henderson, but the judges saw it 30-27, 29-28 and 30-26. Perhaps they missed the numerous times Miller had Henderson in trouble - or maybe they gave more credit to Henderson for working free and doing as much damage as he could deal out.
Late in the first round, Miller saw an opportunity in the standing clinch to go for the kimura. The position is a bit of an odd one for those accustomed to seeing a fighter pull kimuras from guard or from top control, but the same principles still apply - the arm under attack gets bent at a 90 degree angle and torqued to put stress on the elbow and shoulder. Jim gets the proper grip and then wraps his far side leg around Ben's waist and leg to prevent a spin out and the subsequent loss of the possible submission. Ben takes this as an opportunity to trip Miller to the ground with a thump and work his way free from top half guard. Note that Ben's left hand is gripping either his own arm or one of Miller's arm to prevent the unwanted torque from being applied.
Miller uses the half guard position to deepen his kimura grip even further and shift his legs to a better position to off-balance Henderson. Jim's right leg comes over Ben's face and settles upon the shoulder to set up a body position where Jim can brace with both legs and yank backwards with all his might. Smartly, Henderson resists this process and basically plays the game of inches and might to loosen the two on one grip Miller has on his right arm just enough that the elbow can be rotated downwards and then the arm pulled out. The calm Benson displays here is magnificent. As a result of the proper defenses to the submission, Ben now has Miller on the floor and can play his preferred ground and pound game from top control.
At the 2:45 mark of the second round, Miller again goes for a kimura grip - this time from a more conventional guard position. He gets the two on one grip on Henderson's left arm and when Bendo reacts by leaning slightly upwards and to the right to pull the arm out, Miller switches to the leglock attack on the now exposed left leg. Bendo seems surprised by the swiftness of the attack, while wanting to punch Jim in the face. The blood on the mats and on Miller's face is a sign of how successful the "punch 'im in the face" strategy has been for Henderson thus far.
The delay in starting his defense and the desire to smack his fist into Miller's head some more causes him to fail in pushing either of Miller's legs away from where Miller wants them. Jim's left leg slides across Ben's chest and creates both a barrier from potential punches and further weakens Ben's base, while the right leg comes to further secure the leg and help the rotation to the kneebar. Look at how Miller's left hand moves from the kimura to the crook of the knee to the back of the ankle. The right hand helps out too by shoving Ben backwards and pinning the ankle to the mat before Ben can pick it up and bring it into the center of Jim's chest (and away from most heel hook attacks).
The most common defenses to leglocks involve spinning, as the momentum of the spin and the changing frames of reference usually prevent the offensive grappler from cinching tight the technique and getting the finish. The spins are a very common feature of the ADCC submission grappling matches that are held every two years and most grapplers can usually find a position where a leg has worked free just enough to stop spinning and truly break free.
In this match, Miller's kneebar stalls out with 2:33 left in the second round. Henderson's leg is gruesomely extended, but the knee is forwards just enough that Miller cannot use his hips (or his cup) to lever the knee upwards and threaten the ligament and bone damage that causes a tap to successful kneebars. The right leg of Bendo is braced carefully on Miller's butt and is helping him push Miller further back off the knee. At 2:29, Miller knows he has lost the kneebar and kicks out to try for a clinch - or a better position if Henderson is slow to turn and counter. It is kinda cool how Miller stands up with perfect form as his right arm braces and his right leg swings back to provide a better base.
At the close of the second round, Bendo yet again gives up his left leg in a position somewhat similar to the one Bocek had at UFC 129. This time, Henderson keeps better base and Miller goes more firmly for the heel hook. Miller has the heel in the crook of his elbow and manages to spin to his left to impart more torque upon Henderson's left knee. The flexibility and calm of Bendo is displayed once more, as he slaps away Miller's right leg that is trying to prevent a counter-spin that would alleviate pressure, and slides his own right leg in and over. The submission is still somewhat dangerous, but Bendo wins free yet again (beyond the range of this GIF).
Miller would go on to briefly drop Henderson in the third round, only to find Ben taking him down and moving to rear mount. After fighting free of a rear naked choke, Jim would valiantly throw everything but the kitchen sink to take the round, only to be frustrated by the higher pace and intensity Henderson maintained. The "miracles" of survival now seemed to be everyday affairs for Benson and his calm under pressure allowed him to move ahead to a title eliminator fight against Clay Guida at UFC on Fox 1.
The hair-off, as I call it, turned out to be the best fight on that card and both men showed off their high pace and fine mix of striking and takedowns to an appreciative audience. Early on, Ben rocked Clay with a punch and was held at bay with wild punches and a counter-takedown. Later in the round, Guida would return the favor by landing a flying knee directly on Henderson's chin and following up with a two punch combination that dropped Henderson to the canvas.
After being dropped, Henderson drives into Guida for a takedown - only to be met by a firm sprawl and a guillotine set-up. Guida goes for the choke (beyond the scope of this GIF), but loses it because he is not that good of a technician in terms of submissions.
The guillotine of Takanori Gomi aside, Guida does not have to be an elite submission grappler to win most of his fights in the lightweight division. The rules of MMA and his own package of skills allow him to win by ruthlessly pushing the pace, landing more strikes than his opponent and going for the knockout or the wrestling-based domination that he enjoys so much. Clay still has a pretty good command of the choke. However, he ran into someone who had no problems with the pace, comparable wrestling and extraordinary submission escapes. Guida had to employ perfect technique and unfortunately for him, that didn't happen here.
The gold standard for this situation in MMA comes from Benson himself, as per his guillotine choke of Donald Cerrone at WEC 48. Cerrone dove in and Benson countered by sprawling and seizing the neck alone - eschewing the arm-in guillotine that Guida went for - and pushing in a butterfly hook and whipping the far side leg up on Cerrone's back. This is the version of no-arm guillotine that Marcelo Garcia loves to apply and it swiftly gets the tap from Cerrone.
Credit to Zombie Prophet for this GIF, I think.
With 50 seconds left in the third round of the Guida fight, Henderson leaves his neck out yet again and Guida seizes upon it for a guillotine. This time, Guida goes for the no-arm version, links his hands and even whirls Henderson down on his back. This looks incredibly promising for Clay, but Ben angles his head just enough to the right to relieve pressure on the carotids and his legs prevent Clay from entering full mount. The angle is not exactly right for the choke and Ben's chin is angled towards the hands, rather than the elbow. Despite Guida's best efforts to clear the legs and arch for the choke, Henderson survives once more and eventually works his way free.
The last miracle Guida forced Ben to come up with occurred at the very end of the third round. With sixteen seconds left in the match, Clay pops free of a body triangle and turns into Ben. Yet another guillotine opportunity opened up and with joyful abandon, Clay went for it. Going with the no-arm variation again, he looks to whirl Henderson down to the mat again and move into mount. Ben defends by actually dropping back faster than Clay is ready for and elevating Clay's legs with his right hand. Guida ends up spinning nearly 360 degrees in an unexpected manner. The awkwardness of the spin leaves plenty of space for Ben to work free once more and rabbit punch Guida in the back of the head while defending a counter-takedown.
In retrospect, the Henderson/Guida fight probably should have made it to the live audience on Fox, but it still isn't the most exciting fight Benson Henderson ever had or even the one with the best escapes. That honor would belong to the WEC 43 battle with Cerrone.
Donald Cerrone has a bona fide reputation as anyone in the sport for putting on exciting exhibitions of controlled violence and the nine [Something] Of The Night bonuses in twenty two career fights confirm his pizzazz. In 2009, he and Ben Henderson fought for the WEC interim title in what would be awarded the Fight of the Year by Sherdog and written up in highly entertaining fashion by Jack Encarnacao. Henderson won a very controversial decision and escaped numerous moments of trouble in the bout with some stupefying flexibility, skill and heart.
We'll start with the more mundane and then move to the really freaky stuff. With about a minute gone in the second round, Cerrone threatened a back take and slid into a body triangle from an off-set position. What Benson did here in connecting his left elbow to his knee and backing out slowly while maintaining base allowed him to pop upright and stiff-arm Cerrone back to full guard. He also prevented Cerrone from getting a no hooks or one hook rear naked choke or a possible armbar here. This bit of defense may not wow people that much, but it is impressive and allowed Ben to shift from defense to offense very quickly.
In a similar position to the Miller fight above, Cerrone threatens a kimura enough to cause Henderson to hide the right arm and shrink downwards on Cerrone's legs. This lets Donald swing up and over to the back by pivoting on his forehead. Cerrone keeps the arm gripped the entire time and once he is on the back, he goes for an armbar and starts to put his hips into it. This is not a classic armbar position, but is more similar to the belly-down armbar that experienced grapplers are familiar with and employ often. In yet another display of grit, Ben gets back to both knees and then "gives" his arm to the armbar while simultaneously stepping over Cerrone. This motion lets him alleviate the pressure on his elbow and free his arm for more strikes. Cerrone reacts by spinning to guard and possibly hunting a leglock, which causes Ben to drop backwards and yank his legs out of reach. This is a beautiful sequence from both fighters.
After shooting in for a takedown, Ben exposes his neck yet again at the 4:36 mark of Round 4. Cerrone immediately slaps on a no arm brabo choke that is very much akin to the chancery choke Jon Jones finished Lyoto Machida with recently or the famous Ninja Choke applied by Shuichiro Katsumura on Masakatsu Ueda at Way of Shooto 2. Somehow, Bendo survives this brabo choke for a full minute. Some of this can be explained, but lasting a minute in that choke is downright spooky. Cerrone is attacking both carotids with a biceps and forearm, while bracing that choking arm in the crook of his other arm. He has also driven Henderson fully flat to the ground.
Ben managed by luck or skill to get his left hand up into the crook of the arm just above Cerrone's left hand. This left hand prevents Cerrone from driving the right arm forwards and upwards to finish the choke in full - but most people would tap from what Bendo is experiencing already. As Cerrone continues to try and drive that right arm down, he exposes the elbow of his arm and Ben takes advantage of that to slip the elbow past the hand. The choke is escaped and Benson is saved once more. If anyone can explain how he has the energy to pop up to his feet, take the punch, collect himself and then fire off a savage kick, go right ahead. It's verging upon supernatural.
With 2:20 left in the fifth round, Cerrone works from an open guard into an omoplota. He prevents Ben from rolling free and transitions back and forth between the omoplota, a triangle/armbar combination and then finally this kimura attempt. All I can say in analysis of Ben's defense is "Stretch Armstrong". I have no idea how Ben Henderson knew that he could survive that kimura. That looks disgusting and I bet Cerrone had some weird feelings about seeing Henderson stay calm and tug his way free. To free himself, Ben resists and steps his right foot over to reduce the dangerous angle. The submission threat is defused for now.
With 20 seconds left in the fifth round, Cerrone connects on one of the hardest upkicks I've ever seen in MMA. Ben drops like a sack of potatoes into Cerrone's open guard and is promptly slapped into a triangle. By this time, instinct has kicked in enough for Henderson to pull out enough to force a shift to an omoplota, which morphs into a gruesome looking armbar. Ben defends by being Plastic Man and he rolls out just as the bell rings.
Cerrone should have dug into the arm just above the elbow earlier in the omoplota to get a straight armbar-type situation, but honestly, this is how Benson got the nickname "Bendo". He pulls this stuff on a regular basis and all of this breakdowns and close looks reveal that these miracles are built on how astoundingly good his instincts are, freaky flexibility and the daredevilish pushing of his body to its absolute physical limits.
Benson Henderson will do anything it takes to win and that is an intimidating attitude perhaps matched only by the man he will face in the main event of UFC 144 in Saitama Super Arena.
Thanks for following along, folks. Catch you later.