Ben Henderson’s Glorious Toothpick of Absolute Victory? Props: BloodyElbow.
When it comes to UFC on Fox 5, it’s hard to know whether to start with the top or the bottom. Ben Henderson’s dismantling of Nate Diaz was a statement performance in a division where title fights have been been subjected to controversy and questionable decisions for the past two years. (Frankie Edgar’s KO of Gray Maynard notwithstanding.) And he did this with a toothpick in his mouth the entire time! No, that’s not necessarily legal, but it makes the performance even more incredible. But on the other hand, this was probably the best, most violent preliminary card in recent memory, highlighted with KOs from Yves Edwards and Daron Cruickshank. And that’s not even touching the rest of the main card. We have much to discuss, Potato Nation.
So let’s start with the top. Ben Henderson, toothpick and all, dominated Nate Diaz. He kicked the legs out from under him, tossed him into the fence at will, and when they engaged on the ground, it was on Henderson’s terms. Diaz was able to maneuver into position for leg lock attempts in the third round, but beyond that he didn’t have much to offer Henderson. (Humorously, during one of those exchanges, Diaz raised his fist to Henderson’s face, and the camera immediately cut to a crowd shot. Yeah, wonder why…) Diaz never gave up trying, to his credit, but Henderson demonstrated that he was clearly the superior fighter of the two. Henderson was able to drop Diaz on multiple occasions, and while he was able to finish the Stockton fighter, he was able to damage him to the degree that even Diaz conceded victory when the final bell sounded. Henderson came out with a smart gameplan and executed it in violent fashion. Whoever challenges for the title next will have a serious issue on their hands, because with Frankie Edgar gone, Henderson finally looks secure on his throne.
The rest of the main card undoubtedly saw a – pardon the phrase – changing of the guard last night. Alexander Gustafsson was able to bloody and batter Mauricio “Shogun” Rua en route to a clear cut decision. Shogun came out strong, and while none of the judges saw fit to give him the first round, some observers (myself included) did. He used leg kicks, connected with the heaviest shots, and even though he got taken down, was easily able to avoid damage and return to his feet. However, rounds two and three weren’t up for debate. As Shogun tired, he began to throw desperate, flailing strikes which Gustafsson easily evaded. The Swede was content peppering Shogun from outside, dominating the clinch exchanges, and taking Shogun down at will throughout the latter rounds. It wasn’t the most impressive performance, and may not land him a title shot, but it’s easily his most significant victory in the UFC. For Shogun, it’s a sad day when a once great fighter can barely fight 15 minutes. He’s got a couple of fights left in him, but not much more.