Aah, Benson Henderson. As with many WEC fighters, I am very happy to see Bendo finally getting his due respect in the UFC. Even though he shouldn't have won his second bout with ex-lightweight-champ Frankie Edgar, I can honestly say that I've never been happier to see a robbery take place because Henderson promises to be a very exciting champ. He is a deserved favorite in his upcoming fight with Gilbert Melendez, though the oddsmakers are certainly undervaluing the Strikeforce champ. Ben is far from perfect. Despite being able to outwork many top fighters in a division with some of the best striking talent in the UFC, there are plenty of gaps in the champion's armor.
We're going to have a look at those now.
Read more: The Striking of Gilbert Melendez
Positioning in Exchanges
It cannot be denied that Ben Henderson's greatest asset on the feet is his kicks, which are fast, powerful, and accurate. He used them to defeat the wrestling and boxing of Frankie Edgar and in their first bout did so with ease.
But no striker can win with kicks alone, and Ben is often forced to punch with opponents. Bendo's hands are nothing to write home about. He has very little head movement when he boxes and telegraphs his punches pretty badly. Mixed with his varied kicking game, though, he can be quite effective coming forward.
Unfortunately, when Ben is not able to come forward, such as when he is backed up against the fence, or unable to clinch with his opponent once he's backed them up into the fence, his ugly habit of getting drawn into reckless exchanges rears its head. You can watch just about any Ben Henderson fight and see at least one of these exchanges take place; he brawled for five wild seconds with Clay Guida when the Carpenter had his back to the wall; he slung leather with a superior striker in Anthony Pettis multiple times; recently he was dropped in just such an exchange by a man renowned for his lack of punching power. Let's examine that last one.
1. Ben lunges with an uppercut. At the moment he throws it, Frankie is in a relatively solid stance, with his chin protected, neither leaned forward nor close enough for the upward trajectory of Bendo's punch. This shows that Ben's boxing is random at best.
2. Catching a clipping punch on the top of the head, Ben drags his rear foot up so that he is now in something of a southpaw stance, but his wild hook misses the target because he is not positioned correctly relative to his opponent.
3. The positioning gets worse. At this point, Ben's positioning can only be called "square." He is in no position to receive a punch on the jaw, nor to give one, as he winds up his right once again. Unfortunately for Ben, Frankie has reset himself, briefly measures Ben with the jab, and prepares to slip and counter
4. Frankie's right hand lands square on Bendo's chin as yet another of the champ's erratic punches misses, and he crumples to the canvas.
Henderson excels at long range and in the clinch. However, in mid-range, where boxing dominates, he struggles to fight with composure, which often causes him to get dropped. Unfortunately, Bendo's chin isn't the best, but his recovery and scrambling ability means that this is rarely a problem. Gilbert Melendez, on the other hand, just might have the power and the follow-up ground and pound to take full advantage of Henderson's wild punching tendencies.
Movement can be an issue for Henderson. Though one might think that a man with legs like Bendo's can move how-the-hell-ever he wants to, Henderson has sometimes struggled with equally fleet-footed or more aggressive strikers. It isn't a question of speed or explosiveness. A few seconds of any Henderson fight will tell you that he moves well in a general sense. Benson is quick, explosive, agile, and he leaps into kicks with frightening effectiveness. Once again, however, he struggles when he is put on the back foot.
Henderson's footwork usually takes him back in a relatively straight line. He ends up walking himself into the cage quite often. To compound the problem of his backpedaling footwork, it's clear that Benson simply improvises most of his head movement. When he does try to evade punches, his standard response is to sway back away from the incoming blow. Now plenty of skilled strikers do this, and there's no reason that leaning back, or fading as it's sometimes called, can't be part of a fighter's array of defensive movements. But Ben Henderson often ends up leaning back past his own feet, leaving him off balance and susceptible to being struck clean on the chin. And with no solid base to absorb that strike, the problem of Henderson's questionable chin is compounded. Worse still, and this is the cardinal sin of evasive movement, Henderson often ends up taking his eyes off of his opponent in his wild, improvised dips and sways.
1. Ben lands a kick, but Pettis catches it on the forearms, loading himself up for a long left hook.
2. Henderson tries to lean out of range and, balance and posture compromised, catches the hook right on the chin as he loads his counter punch.
3. His counter going wide of the mark, Bendo slips sloppily to the side, completely taking his eyes off of Pettis, who is positioned perfectly to hit him.
4. Pettis sends Henderson reeling with a hard right hand to the jaw. Bendo's eyes are still not on his opponent by the time the punch lands.
Well, I feel I've been a bit harsh on Ben Henderson here, and I want to stress that he is, in fact, one of the best fighters at lightweight. Despite the large holes in his striking defense, Henderson makes for an excellent mixed martial artist. He is well-rounded in a way that many fighters still are not. Though his hands need work, his kicks are excellent, and he has enough explosiveness in those gargantuan legs of his to fire off a head kick and duck immediately under for a double leg takedown. His clinch game is excellent and, like Gil, he has outstanding ground and pound. Unlike Gil, he is a very accomplished submission grappler. It's been some time since he's gotten the finish, but no one doubts the power of Henderson's guillotine. Bendo is fantastic in scrambles, and virtually impossible to submit, seemingly regardless of the hold being applied.
He is the champ for a reason, and we have every reason to believe that he can outwork Gilbert Melendez.
But I'm just saying. Those odds are tempting, and the weaknesses are there.
Read more: The Striking of Gilbert Melendez