Benson Henderson escaped with another controversial decision. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Benson Henderson took the all-important first step towards reclaiming the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight throne, but it did not go as smoothly as he would have liked.
In his first appearance since surrendering the 155-pound title to Anthony Pettis, Henderson escaped with a controversial split decision over former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson in the UFC on Fox 10 headliner on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. Two of the three cageside judges sided with Henderson by 48-47 and 49-46 scores; a third cast a dissenting 48-47 scorecard in favor of Thomson.
Thomson (20-6, 3-2 UFC) had the MMA Lab ace on his heels from the start, as he struck for a takedown inside the first minute, shifted to his back and trapped him in a tight body triangle, forcing him to defend punches and chokes for an extended period of time. The scene replayed itself in the second round, though Thomson appeared to injure his thumb during one of the exchanges.
Henderson switched gears in the third, as he bullied “The Punk to the ground behind a Superman punch and later targeted his body with kicks, knees and punches. Injured hand and all, Thomson refused to go away. The American Kickboxing Academy mainstay delivered a pair of takedowns in round four and another in the fifth. Henderson (20-3, 8-1 UFC) countered with an assortment of strikes -- a step-in hook to the body was utilized repeatedly -- and left the cage with the decision.
Miocic Outboxes Gonzaga to Decision
In the heavyweight co-main event, Stipe Miocic wore down Gabriel Gonzaga with pace and precision en route to a unanimous decision. Miocic (11-1, 5-1 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 nods from the judges, as he won for the fifth time in six Octagon appearances.
Gonzaga (16-8, 11-7 UFC) enjoyed some early success, particularly with his low kicks, but his subpar conditioning cost him. His output dwindled in the second round, allowing Miocic to gain a foothold in the match.
The 31-year-old Strong Style Fight Team representative pecked away with stiff jabs and right crosses, further draining the Gonzaga gas tank. Miocic threw it into overdrive in round three, where he drove the Brazilian to the canvas and tagged him with standing-to-ground punches and hammerfists.
Cerrone Head Kick KOs Martins
Donald Cerrone knocked out former Jungle Fight champion Adriano Martins with a first-round head kick in a lightweight showcase. The shin-to-neck impact felled Martins (25-7, 1-1 UFC) 4:40 into round one, snapping the Brazilian’s six-fight winning streak in spectacular fashion.
Cerrone (22-6, 9-3 UFC) softened the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a series of kicks to the legs and body. With less than half a minute remaining in the first round, “Cowboy” fired high with a kick that short-circuited Martins and sent him crashing to the canvas in an unconscious state. Cerrone raised his fist for a follow-up shot but saw it was not necessary.
Martins had not been finished in nearly six years.
Stephens Downs Elkins, Wins Third Straight
Heavy power punches, thudding leg kicks and airtight takedown defense carried Alliance MMA’s Jeremy Stephens to a unanimous decision over Darren Elkins in a featured featherweight scrap. All three cageside judges scored it for Stephens (23-9, 10-8 UFC): 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
On a three-fight winning streak, Stephens spent the better part of two rounds battering his counterpart with left hooks, right uppercuts and leg kicks. Elkins (17-4, 7-3 UFC) whiffed on all of his takedown attempts, unable to improve his chances and get his opponent on the ground. The Duneland Vale Tudo export made one final pass at victory in the last minute of the fight, as he wobbled Stephens with a left hook and threatened him with a series of chokes. However, the finish he needed never developed.
Stephens has rattled off three consecutive victories since downshifting to 145 pounds.
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