Benson “Smooth” Henderson has won 15 of his last 16 bouts. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
It has been more than a year since the Ultimate Fighting Championship made its maiden voyage on Fox with a heavyweight title bout between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
For its fifth installment on the network, the promotion has prepared perhaps its heartiest offering to date. A lightweight championship between Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz promises nothing but action, while up-and-comers Alexander Gustafsson and Rory MacDonald test their mettle against battle-hardened veterans Mauricio Rua and B.J. Penn on Saturday at the Key Arena in Seattle.
While ratings have been somewhat disappointing for the UFC’s last two Fox efforts, an advertising campaign centered on the NFL Sunday crowd should boost viewership significantly -- as if you really needed another excuse to postpone your holiday shopping for a few more days.
Here is a closer look at UFC on Fox 5 “Henderson vs. Diaz,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on Fox 5 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Lightweight Championship
Benson Henderson (17-2, 5-0 UFC) vs. Nate Diaz (16-7, 11-5 UFC)
The Matchup: After spending a grand total of 50 minutes in the Octagon with the notoriously resilient Frankie Edgar, Henderson should feel fortunate to have emerged with his undefeated UFC record intact. While Henderson’s initial victory against “The Answer” was closely contested enough, the scoring of the rematch proved to be even more contentious. Although Henderson was outstruck, outwrestled and threatened with submissions, Edgar was not quite definitive enough in any area to recapture his 155-pound title.
Diaz, meanwhile, has been nothing short of spectacular since returning to the lightweight division in late 2011. Accurate striking and an opportunistic submission game have carried the Stockton, Calif., native to impressive victories over Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller in his last three outings. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner has often struggled against top-control wrestlers in the past, but his dominance against Miller demonstrated how far he has come since losses to Gray Maynard and Clay Guida earlier in his career.
With that said, Diaz must hope that the Henderson who showed up against Edgar at UFC 150 makes his way to The Emerald City. The MMA Lab representative spent much of that bout standing with Edgar, which allowed his foe to employ his solid boxing skills and made each round difficult to score. This can be attributed, in part, to the fact that Edgar is no slouch in the wrestling department and also because Henderson had quite a bit of success landing kicks to the legs and body in their first encounter.
“Smooth” would be wise to get back to his bread-and-butter against Diaz, however. Henderson possesses great upper body strength and is formidable in the clinch and while unleashing heavy ground-and-pound on the mat. His uncanny flexibility makes him nearly impossible to submit, so he will not be deterred from throwing punches and elbows inside of Diaz’s dangerous guard. Considering that Diaz’s takedown defense has been suspect at best -- according to FightMetric.com, he only defends 48 percent of his opponent’s takedowns -- there is a decent chance the Californian will spend a fair amount of this contest fighting from his back.
Closing the distance figures to be Henderson’s greatest challenge. The former World Extreme Cagefighting champion possessed both size and reach advantages against Edgar, who has since dropped to featherweight. That will not be the case against Diaz, a former welterweight competitor with a six-inch reach edge on the champion. Both men are southpaws, which could aide Henderson in moving into takedown and tie-up range.
Henderson cannot allow Diaz to get in a rhythm with his pitter-patter striking. Henderson generally likes to set a rapid pace in all aspects of a fight, but Diaz is on a completely different plane when it comes to punching in volume. Diaz will press forward, daring his foe to trade with him while connecting with crisp, accurate punches to the head and body. Henderson should take note of the success Cerrone enjoyed when he attacked Diaz’s legs in their December 2011 meeting. The Arizona resident will not win prolonged exchanges with Diaz, but he can keep his adversary off balance by throwing a wide array of kicks.
The Pick: Miller is a gritty fighter, but Henderson is a better all-around athlete, which will allow him get close enough to wear down Diaz by pressing him against the cage and dragging him to the canvas. Henderson’s rapid work rate on the mat often leaves him prone to falling into opponent’s submissions, but getting him to tap is the real challenge. Expect Henderson to do his best to limit the exchanges with Diaz, forcing the challenger to open his extensive bag of tricks from guard. It will not be enough, as Henderson wins a rousing decision.
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