Two former lightweights turned welterweights cap UFN 79 off this November 28, 2015 at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul, South Korea.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Bendo gambles his future against the man who always seems to come up with a bad hand when it counts.
David: Henderson tries to move forward in the Welterweight division at TBA weight.
Benson "Smooth" Henderson
Jorge "Gamebred" Masvidal
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Bendo has historically been the most stable performer of the WEC trio. Anthony Pettis has had the injuries and the upset losses, but probably the most physical potential. Cerrone fights more consistently, but tended to drop the big fights. Ben was the most consistent performer, but had the least consistent level of fan support. People liked him on his way to the UFC belt, seemed to turn when he won it, and finally really got behind him for his fight against Brandon Thatch.
David: Call it selective nostalgia, if you will. Henderson is still a loveable part of the WEC memory, but the competition has been steady. It's hard to finish fighters at lightweight, which is where Henderson lost his fan support; he couldn't finish fights. Well that, and perhaps more holy rolling than some fans might be comfortable with.
Phil: Masvidal has been that guy who's always been just on the wrong side of history. From the meme-fodder inverted triangle loss to Toby Imada, to a sort-of-close-but-not-really loss to Melendez where he hurt his hand just before Strikeforce got bought up by the UFC. His losses have always seemed to come at the best time to derail his momentum, up to and including the sketchy decision loss to Al Iaquinta. Now he's at welterweight, for what might be his last run.
David: Masvidal's always been inconsistent. But what's always baffled observers is his ability to look poised and graceful against intimidating opposition (Paul Daley) yet somewhat clumsy and unprepared against lesser competition (like Rodrigo Damm, awful stoppage be damned). It's a weird kind of inconsistency, but he's a tough outing for pretty much anyone.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Higher than you might expect for a Fight Pass main event on at whatever time in the morning it is for you people. I have, as you may expect, no sympathy for any Americans who might be upset by the viewing time, seeing as main cards traditionally start at 3 in the morning over in the UK. The stakes are higher because Henderson is finishing out his contract and looking to test free agency. Thus, his negotiation power is directly dependent on whether he wins.
David: Not only that, but a big win also propels him into a high profile fight. It's not about beating Masvidal; it's about expanding on the good will earned by beating Thatch. He could suddenly find himself in position to pick up a singular win that gets the Zuffa brain trust talking. Welterweight hasn't lost its depth. The depth is merely dispersed; whether due to injury, prospect busts, or pot, the division is ripe for someone to grab some one of those title shots we look back on and scratch our head over.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Bendo tends to drift around on the outside, then suddenly explode forward with moments of eye-catching offense. We've said this before, but he's tkind of the case study in putting together a bunch of slightly awkward and unconventional attacks into a functional whole. He's got a slightly pawing jab, and tends to slip outside where he throws a crushing right hook to the body or left straight. He's a great kicker, attacking the body and all areas of the legs including thigh stomps and calf kicks.
From top position, Henderson is an absolute monster, with a lethal guillotine and ferocious ground and pound. In general what makes Bendo elite is his ability and willingness to attack every area of the opponent's game and body, as well as his ability to control the perceptions of the fight.
David: Henderson really does have an odd rhythm doesn't he? It works well at welterweight where fighters tend to be a little more linear, and less active. Henderson doesn't have to worry about Jose Aldo style attack, so his off kilter attacks carry more weight. At least in theory. It's still important to remember that he's only had one fight, but I think Thatch, regardless of where we think his career is headed, represents what will make Henderson effective.
That's precisely why I think this is a difficult fight for Benson; Henderson needs to be active with his body attack, and leg kicks. The silly paw jab he does won't fly against the upright boxing of Jorge's. There's probably some crazy obscure statistic the "pocket protector crowd" can generate explaining its efficiency, but you'd think he'd get punished for that more often.
Phil: For someone as long-tenured, skilled and athletic as Masvidal, he sure is lacking in marquee wins. Kotani? Edwards? Chiesa? If Bendo is a collection of unorthodoxies brought together by an intangible will and moxy, then Masvidal is a collection of technical brilliancies that always seem to be just on the verge of coming together. From getting knocked down early and struggling to get back into fights, to coasting late on, to getting flash subbed, flash KOed against Damm, or just plain robbed against Iaquinta. It's a laundry list of unfortunate fight outcomes. Aside from this, however, Masvidal has an astonishingly crisp jab, backed up with a hard body kick, and his own strong wrestling and array of choke submissions. He's probably the better boxer in the matchup, and can at least contest Henderson in every single area.
David: He also owns some of the most well timed knees in the game. It forms a great component of his counter wrestling attack. Masvidal's confidence in the pocket helps sculpt the violence he's capable of on the feet. He's not the most powerful puncher, but it's the way he accumulates damage that makes him what some consider a "premier" striker in MMA. I'm not sure I'd go that far, But then again winning a professional boxing match goes a long way in the "different kind of striker" category. Regardless of whether or not said pro win was against a 1-11 boxer.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: With the exception of his loss to Anthony Pettis, Bendo generally tends to get stronger as the fight goes on. The Melendez and Thomson fights were held up as robberies by some (the Thomson one with a lot more justification), but his tendency to bank body work and championship experience make him a pretty reliable 5-rounder.
David: True, but the Rafael dos Anjos fight wasn't that long ago. I feel like calling him a defensive liability on the feet is too lazy. After all, he's only been knocked out once, and it's not like he's been in a massive amount of wars. Henderson isn't a defensive liability, but I think it's useful to think of him as defensively eccentric; he gets away with certain things by the speed with which he can switch his transition game. In addition, his offense, while not always threatening, is varied enough to keep opponents from overcommitting. Opponents rarely throw the kitchen sink at him, and when they do, they need to run up the wall first to do it.
Phil: Curious to see whether welterweight is what Masvidal needed all along- I'm not convinced that it is, and don't really put much stock in beating Mutante, but it is worth pointing out that ever since he's come to the UFC, Masvidal has been much more consistent. This is Jorge's cross to bear- from this point onwards until forever, the hiccups that naturally come with an MMA career fighting the elite (sketchy decisions, unlucky shots) will always be conflated with him being a flake.
David: The real x-factor in Benson Henderson vs. Jorge Masvidal is Masvidal's ability to pretend he's in the backyard. This fight needs to be just the right amount of porn bouncer dirty. He's got the output advantage on the feet. It's his only chance against a fighter bred for five rounds.
Phil: There's no real reason why Masvidal can't win this. However, he's rarely consistent over the course of a fight, and Bendo is always consistent. I like Jorge's boxing over Hendersons, but conversely like Henderson's kicking game, something which Masvidal has historically struggled with a little, and think this may be the difference in a mid-range chess match. Benson Henderson by unanimous decision.
David: I've got nothing to add except I really think Jorge can make the first couple of rounds enough of a boxing match (where he's favored) to make the end result either a questionable decision, or an earned one. Benson Henderson by Split Decision.