In the headline attraction of Saturday's UFC on Fox 7 card, Ben Henderson took a split decision by a nose, over Gilbert Melendez. The judges scorecards read: 47–48, 48–47, 48–47, and it felt every bit as close as it turned out to be. But while the official scorecard numbers may have been close, the fightmetric numbers were dramatically one sided. Henderson out struck Melendez at an almost two to one ratio, and while he threw fewer "significant strikes" he landed more of them.
This leads to an interesting perception of the fight, at least in hindsight, and is probably one of the few times when striking stats are really valuable. In a five round fight where only one takedown was landed, no submission attempts were made, and (other than a purple left leg) neither fighter wore that much damage, the knowledge that Henderson landed a lot more strikes than Melendez sways me into feeling that the judges got it right.
What was the high point of the fight?
The significant strikes, no question. Henderson threw a number of step in elbows all night that were a joy to watch, as well as his signature series of kicks to the lead leg. For his part Melendez made Henderson pay in the pure boxing exchanges, often delivering hard punches as Henderson moved in and out of range. At several points it appeared that Melendez really stung Henderson with some of those shots, but never put him in serious danger.
What was the low point of the fight?
Everything other than the significant strikes, because not a lot else happened. Truthfully, both fighters showed good distance control, decent footwork, and a lot of consistent, well honed technique. But they lacked serious urgency as the fight wore on; it was erroneously paraphrased by Joe Rogan, that Jake Shields told Melendez that he was up 3–0 heading into the fourth (in fact he told Melendez he'd be up three if he won the round). However whether it was his corner's advice that he was leading, or another hitherto unknown factor, Melendez fought like the fight was already won the rest of the way. The almost complete lack of transitional scrambles, wrestling, and grappling, left us with a good, but not great kickboxing match. Coupled with the lack of a clear cut winner there was something of an air of dissatisfaction in the fight as a whole.
Where do they go from here?
Part of me thinks 'REMATCH, REMATCH, REMATCH,' but it's already sounding like that's not the UFC's plan. Dana announced that night that the winner of Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant at UFC 160 next month, will get a title shot. With Aldo vs. Pettis not until August, that makes one of them the likely next in line for the belt.
For Melendez, things get a little tougher. It looked, at least in the ring, that this loss really hit him hard. If he never gets another title shot, I could see this as one of those things that sticks with him for years. I think he'll make another run, but this will sting for a while. In the meantime a fight against Diego Sanchez or Jamie Varner would make me pretty happy and probably get him back on the right track.
Watch it now, later, or never?
I know it's a title fight and all, but I'd say later. Truth be told, not that much happened and there wasn't much to be taken from the fight as a whole. Eventually, for those of the analytical mindset, I think there's a lot of value in reviewing the fight to look at the different entries and setups the two fighters used. But for the casual fan this was a ho-hum affair that is more dissatisfying than anything else. Don't write it off altogether, but maybe save it for a warmup for Henderson and Melendez's next fights.