UFC on Fox: Who did most to finish in Benson Henderson vs Josh Thomson?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In response to the perennial issue of bad judging in combat sports, KJ Gould experiments with his own judging criteria by first applying it to the most recent fight controversy - the decision rendered over the 5 round fight between UFC Lightweights Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson.

For several years many fight fans, reporters and other stakeholders in the sport of MMA have cried foul over seemingly obvious judges' decisions going the wrong way. Sometimes fights have been hard to call, but often that hasn't divided parties as to which fighter should have received the nod.

A few years ago one such fight that caused heated debate was the Miguel Torres vs Demetrious Johnson fight at UFC 130 back in 2011, which was contested at Bantamweight. Johnson received the nod but there was an outcry claiming Torres was the more active off of his back and should have won when considering the bulk of the fight consisted of the ground fighting phase of the game. To see what would happen if the fight was judged under popular submission grappling scoring criteria -- namely from the IBJJF and ADCC organisations -- I re-watched the bout making a note of takedowns, sweeps, passes and submission attempts before implementing the aforementioned scoring criteria. I also used the Fight Metric statistics of the grappling exchanges to see how the scores might look from their perspective. One ruletset had Torres winning 2 rounds to 1, the other Johnson 2 rounds to 1. Fight Metric stats made it 2 rounds to 1 for Torres under both rulesets. When considering the fight as a whole, I had Johnson winning under IBJJF and ADCC rules, Fight Metric stats resulted in a draw under both.

It was an interesting experiment by giving quantitative points to the grappling aspects of the game as happens in competitive wrestling, judo, BJJ and so on, but it also showed how combat sports could easily become judged right down to the minutia of action which I feel takes away from the essence of what a fight should look like under a sporting contest.

Where in most team sports games are played until a time limit ends and the team with the most number of points wins, professional combat sports only have time limits and points scoring in the event of a finish not occurring beforehand. In one-on-one sports where there is no time limit, sometimes victory occurs based on the first player to reach a certain pre-arranged score, and in Folkstyle wrestling a significant points lead ends the match by Technical Fall. In fighting, it doesn't matter how many rounds are won and by whom if a (T)KO or Submission is achieved.

So instead of complicating the judging in MMA by frankly daft ideas such as half-points or looking for the earlier mentioned minutia to avoid draws (because of the perception that draws make everyone sad pandas), I believe the answer is to make things simpler.

By using the simple criteria of 'Who Did Most To Finish?', I'm going to put my judges cap on and start scoring certain fights that go the distance while still using the 10 point must system which typically I will more liberally apply than current judges do (ie more 10-10's and 10-8's scored where I feel appropriate).

I've set myself rules for watching fights I intend to score and they are the following:

- The fight will be watched on mute so I am not influenced by the announcers' commentary.

- The fight will be watched one time only, either live or off of a recording.

At the time of writing I have yet to see Benson Henderson vs Josh Thomson from UFC on Fox, though I am aware of the result. I have recorded the event to watch in my own time (due to time zone differences) and so this Lightweight headliner from this past Saturday night will serve as Patient Zero under the WDMTF criteria.

Round 1

- Minute 1, Henderson throws some feeling jabs before attempting a hard rear headkick which Thomson backs away from and blocks with his arm. Henderson tries an overhand that Thomson avoids before clinching with Henderson and scores a body lock takedown, controlling his back with a body triangle before fighting for hand grip control.

- Minute 2, Thomson continues to look to gain hand control but is throwing no strikes in the process. Henderson rolls to all fours then back onto the other side. Thomson's body triangle is now offside and shouldn't be causing Henderson as much discomfort. Thomson is trying to isolate an arm of Henderson's, possibly to attack, and attempts to use a power nelson of sorts to do so at one point.

- Minute 3, with the over-under seatbelt / lasso control Thomson continues to fight for grips, and at one point tries a facelock though isn't anywhere near close to finishing, likely a tactic to attempt to expose Henderson's neck. Thomson finally attempts punching Henderson but mostly to the ribs and body. After some squirming and a great deal of strength Henderson is able to stand up with Thomson still attached with a body triangle and still bearing his weight.

- Minute 4, Thomson lands some minor punches before dropping off the back, both end up in a 50/50 clinch which Henderson takes control over using better head positioning and use of the underhook. There was a knee from Thomson during this but nothing significant. Thomson is defending with a overhook but still, on the defensive.

- Minute 5, Thomson reverses the clinch against the cage, Henderson responds with a trip takedown into Thomson's guard, Thomson is able to get back to his feet but Henderson locks up a standing arm-triangle. Henderson has good head positioning in this and appears to be squeezing tight, he pulls guard but is unable to finish, Thomson postures out, Henderson swings his legs motioning for a armbar but Thomson is already out of there and back on his feet, both fighters clinch with Henderson throwing some elbows to the body, Henderson breaks and retreats, Thomson chases and throws Henderson to the mat while throwing some weak strikes as the round finishes.

Though Thomson scored a takedown early and secured and held a dominant position on the ground, he did no damage outside of some minor blows to the body, and the danger from the facelock was only moderate. Henderson was dominant in the clinch standing and scored his own takedown, while his arm-triangle appeared tighter compared to Thomson's facelock. Henderson was never going to finish the arm-triangle standing, but pulling guard did put Thomson in more danger of being finished even if it is still very difficult to do so from guard. Henderson didn't hip-out or climb is legs to tighten the arm-triangle, his motion for an armbar worthless when it comes to scoring. When considering strike volume and what landed as well as genuine submission attempts, Henderson did the most to finish the fight in this round even though Thomson landed two slams and had his back for half the round. It was close but not close enough for a draw. I would have to give the round 10-9 to Henderson under WDMTF.

Round 2

- Minute 1, Henderson lands a straight to the body, then an uppercut to the body, then flies in with a knee. Thomson catches the leg but Henderson breaks free before walking Thomson down. They clinch with Thomson against the cage, Henderson controlling with his underhook.

- Minute 2, Henderson is pressing Thomson against the cage, Thomson is able to make space and land a few knees to the body before getting double underhooks, both are fighting for head positioning. Referee breaks them up and they return to the center of the ring.

- Minute 3, Body kick from Henderson, then a failed kick combo. Thomson clinches and takes Henderson down awkwardly over Henderson's own leg. Thomson gets the back control again with a body triangle and more aggressively fights to isolate an arm of Henderson. Henderson back to standing with Thomson hanging on again.

- Minute 4, Thomson drops to his feet and attempts body lock, Henderson spins to face him, Thomson is low for a takedown, Henderson motions to threaten Thomson's neck, Thomson backs out. Henderson is walking Thomson back again, comes in with an uppercut to the body then both clinch against the fence.

- Minute 5, they break from clinch, Henderson lands a calf kick, Thomson responds with one of his own, then another. Flurry from Thomson but Henderson responds with stronger, more aggressive looking striking that lands.

Henderson landed more strikes, he landed more significant strikes to the body of Thomson. Thomson got the takedown and back control again looking to isolate an arm, but Henderson was back on his feet more quickly. Thomson appeared passive on the feet until the last minute, but Henderson was the one that was landing and looked stronger. I would have to score the few body shots Henderson did land as more significant than the takedown and back control of Thomson, which was briefer than it was in the first round. 10-9 Henderson under WDMTF.

Round 3

- Minute 1, Superman punch and a flurry from Henderson that backs up Thomson, aggressive clinch and takedown from Henderson, Thomson tries for half guard then settles on guard, Henderson attempts to throw a hard ground punch at Thomson, Thomson back to his feet, more aggressive clinch work and takedowns from Henderson, now Henderson attacking the back of Thomson. Thomson manages to escape and both get back to their feet.

- Minute 2, Mostly feeling and feinting with the jab from Henderson, missed a hard left straight to the head, more feinting, uppercut to the body that partly lands. Clinch against the cage, minor oblique kick from Henderson, then an arc knee to Thomson's body.

- Minute 3, Thomson grabs Henderson's chin and spins away from the cage and escapes. Thomson now probing with the jab and lands a short right to the head. Henderson comes back with a kick that's caught, Thomson tries for a double leg flair takedown, Henderson defends clinches and puts Thomson against the cage.

- Minute 4, both fighters break from the cage, Henderson jabs and lands an angled jab. Henderson occasionally goes to the body with a straight. Henderson throws a knee that is caught, Thomson struggles to turn this into a takedown trying to overcome Henderson's balance.

- Minute 5, Thomson from the clinch ducks under to the back and has a waistlock, Henderson is able to get back to facing front, Thomson almost completes a takedown but Henderson pops right back up. Thomson slips after throwing a kick, Henderson clinches the head, then gets to side control and lands short elbows. Thomson back to the feet, tries a compass kick but has his foot slapped away from Henderson.

Henderson had a really strong opening minute, took a bit of a breather for the next, and had a little success with ground pound in side control. Thomson was getting the clinches, landed a short right but otherwise was ineffective and missed with kicks or did little damage. The first minute plus Henderson landing elbows on the ground gets the round. 10-9 Henderson under WDMTF.

Round 4

- Minute 1, Henderson throws a kick that is caught, Thomson throws a head kick then a leg kick before letting go. Henderson throws a body kick that backs Thomson up against the fence. Henderson lands a hard leg kick. Clinch but Thomson gets the advantage and an outside trip takedown, keeps control with a Turk, then moves to half guard.

- Minute 2, Thomson looks to isolate an arm with his head, fails and Henderson regains fully guard. Henderson looks to play rubber guard, lands some chipping elbows to the head, locks up a full rubber high guard (what I think Bravo calls 'Crackhead Control'), Thomson ducks out and is able to get to standing.

- Minute 3, Henderson misses with upkicks, Thomson lands a couple of times with diving punches, Henderson back to his feet but gets caught in a front headlock cradle, Thomson rolls the cradle but loses it, back to standing clinch and Thomson flails attempting to get the back, Henderson takes Thomson down briefly, back to standing and Henderson has a rear waistlock on Thomson.

- Minute 4, Henderson landing aggravating toe punts to Thomson's calves, but does land a couple of more significant knees to the hamstrings. Thomson is able to face Henderson but is against the cage, Henderson separates while landing a short left. Feeling jabs from Henderson, Thomson just misses with a front snap kick aimed and Henderson's head.

- Minute 5, Clinch takedown from Thomson, takes the back with a body triangle, stronger power nelson control but Henderson back to standing. Thomson needlessly show boats as the round comes to an end but does appear to be attempting a facelock in the closing seconds which collapses Henderson back to the mat.

Fairly even back and forth in this round. Henderson landed 2 hard strikes and a lot of probing strikes that either hit or miss, Thomson got the fight to the ground a couple of times and had a nice headlock cradle but that didn't do any damage or get him closer to a finish. If Thomson hadn't showboated and instead focused on attacking Henderson's neck, he would have won the round as he would have been closest to getting a finish. 10-10 draw under WDMTF.

Round 5

- Minute 1, neither fighter is really landing anything, though Henderson is being more agressive. Henderson threw two significant shots but neither landed cleanly or fully.

- Minute 2, Still more feeling strikes and a couple of minor calf kicks from both fighters. On their way to a draw round at this rate ...

-Minute 3, Calf kick from Thomson buckles Henderson to the mat, but Thomson fails to capitalise and Henderson gets back up. I would think fatigue has set in for both fighters. Henderson throwing hard body kicks that while not really landing, are backing Thomson into the fence which isn't a good look for most judges. Henderson goes to clinch Thomson turns it around, misses a front snap kick and begins a combo ...

- Minute 4, ... a combo that lands a couple of straight punches before Henderson circles out and away from the cage. Both body kicks at the same time only Thomson catches Henderson, elevates the leg at the heel high and pushes Henderson backwards where he loses balance. Thomson misses a flying knee to the body as Henderson is getting up, they clinch and Thomson continues trying to return Henderson to the mat but fails.

- Minute 5, Henderson manages to turn back to face Thomson, both against the fence still. While both in a 50/50 clinch they're turning along the fence a few times with no significant strikes being thrown or landed. Fight ends with both fighters being passive.

Thomson had the most significant part of this round with the kick catch but failed to complete a takedown or dominate. Neither did enough to finish in this round, possibly due to fatigue and wear and tear. I will score this round 10-10 under WDMTF.

Final Result

Looking at which fighter did the most to finish the fight in my subjective opinion, I ended up with a score of 50-47 for Benson Henderson. The story of the fight was Henderson's aggressiveness and landing the harder strikes in the first 3 rounds, and out of all the submission attempts Henderson's arm triangle was the most legitimate. Thomson hesitated and was too passive during the times he did get either control on the ground or the clinch, and again is in contrast to Henderson's active attack.

Thomson's back control alone may rack up points in some jiu jitsu competitions, but then the body triangle control isn't scored under IBJJF, only having both hooks in are.

Thomson had position advantage on the ground for longer over the course of the fight, but Henderson did more damage the brief time he was in side control landing elbows.

It wasn't a fun fight to watch, and while criticism of Henderson not doing enough to finish fights is fair, he did more to finish this fight than his opponent did.

What do you think? Have your say in the poll and comments about the result of the fight, and the WDMTF criteria.

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