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Photo: Esther Lin
Benson Henderson's journey to the UFC Lightweight Championship has been characterized by some of the most dynamic grappling exchanges the MMA realm has seen. He may have started as a humble NAIA wrestler at the now defunct Dana College, but with that base Bendo, now a brown belt in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu has gone above and beyond expectation. Taking the fight to the octagon mats against some of the most experienced, and talented grapplers in the Lightweight division. The horror of his opponents is that Bendo is still getting better with each fight. In these fights he has shown an offensive arsenal ranging from voracious ground and pound to lighting fast guillotines along with the demeanor he presents when in situations of 'duress' is unique to say the least.
Henderson started his career jumping on the mid west pro MMA circuit, the name of his first event was called Midwest Fighting Championships - Gensis back in 2006. Henderson would garner a record of four wins and one loss before MFC picked him up scoring two more victories. He took one fight in EVO MMA before Zuffa owned WEC signed him and so the story goes.
Benson has shown his ever growing store of ground techniques against opponents who on paper far exceed his accolades. This never stopped Bendo. Through his destruction of renown grapplers like Jim Miller, and Mark Bocek Bendo has shown a will that does not break and beyond all logic recently has yet to be submitted.
In this article we will explore the greatness that is Bendo's ground game.
The tools we will review:
Inside and outside trips
Bendo's blast double/ transition double
Ground and Pound
Inside and outside trips
One of the most simple and broadly used take down attacks in all of grappling arts, from Judo and Sambo to the Folkstyle Wrestling stateside is the trip(yes it exists in other arts but those are the dominant ones in mma). Bendo uses this technique constantly. Many opponents expect him to drop down for a leg and start to widen their stances leaving them selves wide open for the trip. The key set up for this technique is to initiate a clinch preferably against the cage with either an over under position or a double under hook position. Then with head (which is taught to all wrestlers ) point where ideally one wants the opponent to go; this aligns his body and spine in the direction in which the fighter wants to push the take down.
For the outside trip Bendo creates a 'push pull' motion to create the momentum for the move, but the key is while clinching he squeezes the body straightening his opponents spine, and cutting a small angle setting his hip almost perpendicular to that his opponent. Causing them extend their legs for balance and allow Bendo to hook his leg around the out side of his opponents knee. Finishing the 'push pull' motion. The outside trip almost guarantees landing in half guard which is for the most part far better than ending up in an opponents full guard. To simplify its a take down right into a pass.
For the inside trip the set up is quite similar. The differences lie in his hip placement, and where his forward thigh is. If you look closely you can see when attempting the inside trip Bendo forces the tripping leg right in the crotch of his opponent further in exaggerating the straightening of the opponent back discussed earlier. What this does is set his hips on the inside to give him space to throw his leg behind the knee of his opponent and then performing the 'push and pull' motion.
Though there is a slight variation Bendo attacks with and thats instead of attacking with the same side tripping leg to opponents leg he trips the opposite side. This is useful when the opponent is giving way and moving backwards. One can see when Bendo is taking walking down miller in anticipation of the trip stepping left, right, left and then instead of stepping; their bodies are moving fast enough that he cuts the angle with his right foot. The only down fall to this trip opposed to the out side is you are almost guaranteed to land in the opponents guard.
The counter to the trips for the most part are to swim out of the double under hook position and regain a competitve clinch /spraw if he attacks from the over under or or back out of the clinch all together.
The Blast double/ transition double
The blast double is staple of any wrestlers game, and is no new face to the MMA world. Guys such as Mark Kerr, GSP, Josh Koscheck, Chad Mendes etc. all have used to blast double/transition double to great success at the expense of their opponents. What Henderson brings to the table is his speed and set up. He has no fear when he shoots and doesn't hesitate.
When Bendo notices an opportunity he changes level lowering his head incredibly fast and launches his head into the solar plexus which has its added benefits of occasionally knocking the wind out of the opponent. His arms wrap around the legs and cuts the corner causing his opponent to lose footing and be taken down for the transition double.
When speaking specifically on the blast double is quite simple its all the previous steps subtracting the cutting of the angle and instead driving forward keeping the head in the solar plexus/ chest area again aiming where he wants his opponent to go. He executes this move with incredible precision.
A physical trait that definitely gives him an edge here is his legs, the power he generates from short distances in the speed he does all derives from the power and size of his legs. When he shoots in on a leg(s) and normally someone would sprawl out he can drive further and explode out of the weight on top of him.
This gif just shows evidence of the uncanny ability of Henderson to take advantage of a situation in scrambles and change levels.
Ground and Pound
One of Hendersons most devastating tools in his arsenal is his Ground and Pound. With many guys currently being more conservative on top willing to whether out a decision or guys on bottom so deadly and versatile off their backs many guys wont work their top game to its potential. Bendo is different in this respect. He jumps into some of the best guards in his weight class fearless and shows them what ground and pound can truly be. One common misconception that their is no rhyme to his rhythm and that is just not the case.
The keys to Bendo's ground pound is
While I am presenting a image of Bendo escaping a submission. The point is he creates the opportunity to use his ground and pound through the scrambling. One of the things Henderson does best is winning the scramble. Through this he earns him self position to pound his opponent. For example against Guida below he is in a guillotine and does a sort of sit through hooking the leg with his arm and rolling on top. This awareness in the scramble presents Henderson with far more chances to exercise his G&P than most fighters.
Here Bendo is in a contrasting situation. He has won the scramble, but the difference here is he used the ground and pound to create an opportunity. Bendo explodes with elbows causing his opponent to curl on his stomach to avoid the blows. Rather than using his ground and pound to win him points Bendo feels the possibility of a submission and jumps on it.
Henderson has him up against the cage so hes already compacted Miller and hurt his ability to throw up submissions. That is merely the set up.
Take notice here where Henderson's feet are and what hes doing with his left (non punching) hand. He leads with his knee and holds Miller's left leg elevated, and across his own body. This completely unlocks Miller's guard granting Bendo position and control to throw bungalows Bendo is known for.
Now for the fun part. Bendo throws this elbow with incredible force. He loads up on it near perfectly. Though if you step back an analyze it you'll see he creates his explosiveness and sets up the strike with a few things. One being if you watch his feet, he jumps forward faking the strike. Second being his leg leaps only a few inches and thirdly his arm comes up for the punch and then switches immediately it to the elbow. All of these things together create an explosive and hard to anticipate strike.
The magic of Bendo is his lack of fear in bad positions.
Now this is the gem that is Benson Henderson for everything he is good it is topped by his submission defense. With out fear he jumps in these high level guards and at times gets put into bad situations. Whether it be someone taking his back and he keeps them at bay or how Anthony Pettis sat on his back for over three minutes of the second round in their title fight and had no offense. Or the countless attempts Mark Bocek attempted with no such success. This is why he known to be full on 'Gumby'. When in these situations he has a collection of himself that isn't dime a dozen as far as fighters go. He knows what to do immediately after it happens and when in fear creates a scramble and so far its worked every time but one. He has only been finished one time that being against Rocky Johnson via Anaconda choke in his third fight. Its been over five years since that day.
When Bendo attempts to pass Triloni being a relatively high level grappler immediately threw up his legs for the triangle. His defense begins with stepping up and posturing. In most cases the triangle will be broke during posturing, but Triloni is able to maintain lock around Bendo arm and neck. Bendo looks to the sky and with his left arm pulls his elbow in to avoid the arm bar and with his right arm forces it in swimming over his leg nullifying the triangle. The strength that is involved here is hard to comprehend if you have not been in anything like this, and Bendo carries it out with relative ease.
Defending from the back.
Bendo gets his back taken all the time. For all the scrambles he wins you can't win them all, but as I mentioned earlier the composure he has when he ends up in here is astounding. Bendo immediately works the two on one ( both hand on arm because it is very unlikely the opponent can RNC you with one arm) and starts wiggling his chin down. Once he begins to become comfortable and has the opponents arm fully extended he lets go of the extended arm with his left hand and grabs the wrist of the choking arm. Theres a few reasons he does this. One is he pressure he can put down on the extended arm is greater with his right hand since it creates a downward angle and presents a better grip. The second being when he pulls the arm off his neck his opponent cant immediately choke him again because of where his left arm currently is. Also if you look closely he starts to raise his shoulder as he removes the arm. This also helps defend against a second choke attempt.
Now this is not a position that is common by any means. Jim Miller here attempts a standing arm triangle. Henderson does a few things to defend the submission and position. First he grinds his back against the cage halting any further expansion of position by Miller. Second he grabs his own hand and pulls it down to create space around the neck. As well as creating space he uses the elbow to turn into Miller when he attempts move to the back of Henderson. Also take note he keeps his hips against the cage causing friction between Miller and the fence. This allows Henderson with his left arm push on Millers left leg breaking the body triangle/ guard.
While there is a glimpse of an out side trip discussed earlier, the main focus of this is Bocek's immediate omoplata attempt once they hit the mat. Theres a few things that can be broken down that Henderson does. The first is his how he holds Bocek's right leg with his left hand to avoid Bocek locking the submission up. Secondly his steps off to the side. Instead of just moving off to the side he postures up causing Bocek to lose his leverage on his arm.
There is one other person I can think of that has a similar level of Guillotines as Bendo and thats Joseph Benavidez. To achieve this level of torque on the neck whether it be arm in or arm out it first requires that Bendo not start in guard, but rather from any variation of the head lock position(on knees or standing) throwing his hips under his opponent. Secondly the hands to need be clasped nearly one-hundred percent before trowing the legs over(sounds really basic, plenty of guys don't do it this way). Lastly he leans to same side that the arm hes choking with is on. Notice in the first image hes choking with his right arm, while in the next two hes using his left arm and are leaning those directions.
Specifically something Bendo does here since Cerrone is already on the ground is he shoots his hips under Cerrone's on the opposite side he will be choking on; this is to create of space to get a leg in. Cerrone thinks Bendo going for his back at first and tries to stand up and causes to choke to slide even deeper.
This is a beautiful standing Guillotine by Bendo against Triloni. Theres one technique to take notice here. Look at Bendo's left leg when he throws them over Triloni's back. Bendo traps his arm(if you look even closer you can see Triloni tap with that hand). Also
Although we aren't discussing strikes that was a beautiful knee. Before Bendo even throws his legs over Varner knows its locked in. Though that isn't what I'd like to point out rather how tightly Bendo compacts him self before he throws the legs over. Notices he isnt leaning back he pulling up cutting the circulation and not away from Varner's Necks which would cause a crank.
In the end Bendo still has much of a story to tell with his grappling in the cage; being that he defends his belt in a little more than a months time at UFC 150. He will again show he is not a merely a wrestler, but rather on the most varied and unpredictable grapplers on the scene. From his gumby like defenses to some of the most powerful blasts of ground and pound some will ever see; he is quite astonishing. Though no one is perfect and as discussed above he does get put in bad situations, but what took him this far and made him champion was his composure in said situations and his willingness to go there for the win.
People say wrestling is killing MMA. Benson Henderson is a prime example of the exact opposite.
I respect EVERY man that has the courage to walk in the cage, but there are few men that I am proud to say are apart of our sport. Because the other sports don't have champs like him. From High school wrestler to UFC Champion he has used the ground game to make his dreams come true.
Friends I present to you Benson Henderson the UFC Lightweight Champion of the World.
Photo: Esther Lin
You did it man.
I hope I did Bendo Justice. Thank you guys for giving me a platform to put this out there.