When we last left our heroes...If nothing else, this fight presents us with a never before seen narrative; the fighter who admits beforehand that his training camp has sucked.
So says Thomson heading into this bout, to which Benson has replied...so what?
In a way Thomson's comments are a breath of fresh air. Camps, like any other training regimen, are still bound by the life of the fighter. For Thomson, it's not even a joke to quip about whether or not protesters may or may not have been camping outside of his gym.
There's not much to take from the story itself. Both guys are healthy, in shape, and ready to do battle.
Thomson is coming off what is aesthetically his most impressive win. Nate Diaz was and is a formidable opponent for anyone at LW (and beyond in some cases) and Thomson handled him the way you don't expect a Diaz brother to get handled; via TKO that even the Diaz brothers can accept as legitimate. It was a hell of a statement to make after his brilliant trilogy with Gilbert Melendez.
Benson's career has taken an odd turn. Overhearing campfire conversations in the digital landscape among MMA fans, you'd never know that Henderson defended his belt three times.
Some of it's understandable. Benson took home some pretty close decisions that didn't distance himself as an imposing, feared champ. His bouts with Frankie Edgar were close and competitive, as was his bout with Gilbert Melendez. Everyone was on the Anthony Pettis bandwagon before he officially won UFC gold, so the quick first round submission highlighted two things: that Pettis was the real deal, and Henderson wasn't. Let the Pettis "era" commence, the subconscious of the collective MMA world said.
However, it would be silly to overlook Henderson's legitimacy. Two wins over Donald Cerrone in the WEC, and a 7-1 UFC record that boasts wins over names like Clay Guida, Jim Miller, Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz, and now Gilbert Melendez.
What both men can do: Henderson is a good example of a fighter who hasn't evolved much because he hasn't needed to. He's always been a well rounded machine of MMA efficiency. His balance is other worldly. He's defensively durable, and his takedowns are noteworthy for what he's able to do with them once the fight hits the ground. Henderson's signature strength is his ability to create two vastly different kinds of offense on the ground: one with violence using his fists, one with violence using his mind, creating scrambles that give him an opening for a fight ending submission.
His leg kicks aren't on the level of Jose Aldo, but coming close makes you elite in that department, and Henderson's leg kicks are elite.
Thomson is similar, but rather than do business on the ground, he gets his best work done on the feet. He fires punches and kicks at a blistering pace, mixing it all up with crisp seamless wrestling, and dogged groundwork.
His ability to keep the bout on the feet will be the difference.
What both men can't do: While Thomson's loss to Tatsuya Kawajiri was a good blueprint for what Benson could do to win, I don't think it;s that simple.
Kawajiri, even at FW, still has only marginally less power than Henderson, and his grappling is more calculated and conservative. Henderson does a good job of getting the fight to the ground, but doesn't really maintain control in the same way. With Thomson's scrambling ability, I expect this one to be decided on the feet.
And that's where Thomson has a huge edge. Benson still has what sometimes feels like shoddy boxing to this armchair critic. He paws from his southpaw stance with a jab that twiddles rather than threatens, and he's often open for punches thrown straight down the middle.
He's been caught by a lot of quick punchers. Edgar managed to knock him down, which is what makes me think Thomson has this bout in the bag even he just sticks to a proper gameplan. His quickness, accuracy, and power will net him chances, and opportunities.
I hate falling into the trap of underestimating a guy with Benson's record, but I don't see how Henderson overcomes Thomson's superior boxing for five rounds.
X-Factor: Headbutts. Neither guy has some sort of checkered history, but with Benson moving forward with takedowns, and Thomson moving forward with strikes, and both doing so aggressively, I wonder if an inadvertent cut could end up making a difference in the bout.
In-Fight Soundtrack: Queens of the Stone Age, because that's what I'm currently listening to, and you should be too.
Prediction: Josh Thomson by Decision.