Benson Henderson has won 19 of his last 21 fights. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Headlined by a clash between former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight kingpin Benson Henderson and the rock-solid Rafael dos Anjos, the UFC’s Fight Night offering in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday provides a delectable array of relevant fights and fun, violent scraps. Cards like this are close to a best-case scenario for the UFC’s product on Fox Sports 1, featuring a mixture of recognizable names to draw interest and highly talented up-and-comers down the lineup.
Below the fantastic headliner, the event features a donnybrook between uber-gatekeeper Mike Pyle and violent Canadian Jordan Mein, a somewhat less intriguing matchup of top-15 middleweights in Thales Leites and Francis Carmont and a sleeper bout between reliable action fighter Max Holloway and elite prospect Mirsad Bektic.
Let us take a look at each of the 11 fights on the UFC Fight Night “Henderson vs. dos Anjos” card, beginning with the main event:
LightweightsBenson Henderson (21-3, 9-1 UFC) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (21-7, 10-5 UFC)
The Matchup: This is an important fight for both participants. Having lost to Anthony Pettis twice, Henderson will never get another shot at “Showtime” unless he absolutely pastes a few top-5 lightweights and cements himself as the only legitimate challenger to the throne. Eking out close split decisions will not suffice, and while the finish over Rustam Khabilov in June was nice, he needs at least two more to make his case. For dos Anjos, this is the best opportunity he will ever have to stake a claim at the top of the division, especially after dropping an uninspiring decision to Dagestani grappler Khabib Nurmagomedov back in April.
Henderson is consummately well-rounded and capable of winning a fight in any phase. However, his limited output at striking range, less-than-technical wrestling and the occasional errors in his grappling also make him capable of losing a fight in any phase. The string of close decisions that marked Henderson’s run at the top of the division is a product of this style, and prior to his rear-naked choke on Khabilov, he had failed to finish a fight in more than four years.
Henderson looks far busier than he actually is in terms of generating offense, and he relies on grinding in the clinch for long periods of time. With that said, he offers a powerful kicking arsenal, decent takedowns, grinding strength in the clinch, a dangerous top game and the occasional submission in transition; the Khabilov fight offered some hope that Henderson’s hands have finally shown some improvement. He remains one of the best scramblers in the division, with the ability to turn any amount of space on the ground into a dominant position. His athleticism makes everything he does look impressive, and the judges seem to like that.
Dos Anjos has come into his own over the past several years following an underwhelming start to his UFC career. Once a one-dimensional if talented grappler, he has evolved into one of the most proficient wrestlers at 155 pounds, and he boasts an ever-sharper muay Thai game from his southpaw stance on the feet. Dos Anjos also happens to be a fantastic athlete, just a notch below the division’s elite, and his coaches do a fantastic job of game planning around his strengths. At range, dos Anjos loves to work the body, and he does an increasingly excellent job of mixing levels within his combinations: He dropped Donald Cerrone with a right hook after a straight left to the body, for example, and he took that game to the next level against Jason High. His takedown defense is rock-solid against all but the cream of the crop, and he gets fantastic drive on his double-legs. Once the fight hits the mat, the longtime black belt beautifully integrates positional advancement and ground striking, and his guard is good enough to prevent damage.
Betting Odds: Henderson (-300), dos Anjos (+250)
The Pick: This fight should feature a bit of everything. Both fighters can work at range, in the clinch and from any position on the ground with great proficiency. At striking distance, the edge should probably go to dos Anjos. He throws more volume, especially against fellow southpaws -- the range is shorter than in an orthodox-southpaw matchup -- and has a better rhythm and a more consistent track record of getting power behind his strikes. Neither fighter holds a substantial advantage in the clinch, while Henderson might have a tiny edge in the wrestling and scrambling departments. Dos Anjos has a far better chance here than the betting lines indicate, but I think Henderson’s deep experience against the best in the world, not to mention the numerous five-round outings under his belt, will allow the former champion to win a close split decision.
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