Throwback Thursday is a new recurring column that pays tribute to the stars of an upcoming UFC event by taking a look back at some of their earliest defining moments. For our second edition, we focus on Ben Henderson’s last fight to end in a finish ahead of his Fight Night 42 main event clash with Rustam Khabilov this weekend.
Contrary to what he might tell you, former lightweight champion Ben Henderson does not actually finish fights. At least, not since making the leap from the WEC to the UFC back in April of 2010. Prior to his 9 fight, 8 decision run in the UFC, however, Henderson was a finishing machine, picking up submission victories over the likes of Jamie Varner and Anthony Njokuani and even a quick TKO over Shane Roller while making his name under the WEC banner.
His final finish (and final victory) in the WEC came at the now legendary WEC 48 over rival Donald “Go Get Some” Cer-ron-eyyy.
This might be hard to believe, but back at WEC 43, Henderson actually captured the promotion’s interim lightweight championship via a controversial unanimous decision over Cerrone (pictured above) that both fans and many media members felt should have gone the other way. I know right? Crazy times, those were.
Anyway, Cerrone would score a third round rear-naked choke over Ed Ratcliff in his rebound fight at WEC 45, and Henderson would unify the belts with a third round sub of his own over Varner at WEC 46, thusly setting up the epic rematch that fans had been begging for at WEC 48. You hear that, Jon Jones? THAT IS HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO WORK.
Given that their first fight was the very definition of a back-and-forth war, expectations were high heading in Henderson vs. Cerrone II, especially considering that WEC 48 had already provided fans with the instant classic that was Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung, and the massive upset that was Manny Gamburyan vs. Mike Brown.
But for every Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua II, there is at least one Silva vs. Sonnen II — a decent, if underwhelming rematch that leaves many fans ultimately disappointed with the outcome. That’s the thing about expectations; they require a delicate sense of restraint when it comes to MMA fights, television shows, or truly anything capable of generating hype in a culture obsessed with round-the-clock coverage of even the most mundane story. It’s why many people were let down by the ending of True Detective, and why many MMA fans were actually disappointed to see Henderson submit Cerrone (who had never been submitted prior and has not since) with a guillotine inside of two minutes.
Yet that’s what happened. After a brief exchange on the feet that was more a feeling out process than anything else, Bendo shot on a single leg takedown that was immediately stuffed by “Cowboy.” Henderson was able to use the momentum to push his opponent against the fence, however, where he landed a series of knees to the legs and torso of Cerrone before eventually securing the takedown.
An admittedly slow starter, Cerrone found himself on his back and in Henderson’s half guard, eating a steady diet of punches and elbows that forced him to scramble to his feet. It was in this scramble that Henderson would lock onto a no-arm guillotine and quickly force the tap. If everyone on Team Alpha Male hadn’t already proved it, Henderson’s victory showed fans that incredibly powerful grapplers who appear to be made of marble perhaps pack the best guillotine chokes of them all.
“That was way quicker than anyone expected,” said Joe Rogan from ringside, echoing the feelings of any MMA fan who was familiar with Donald Cerrone. And a somewhat anti-climactic finish it may have been, but when compared to Henderson’s current run of split and unanimous decisions, it’s probably something that fans wouldn’t mind seeing more of from “Smooth.”
The temporary setback at the hands of Pettis would be just that for Henderson. “Smooth” would make his official UFC debut at UFC 129 in April of 2011, scoring a dominant decision over Canadian grappler Mark Bocek. Similarly impressive wins over Jim Miller and Clay Guida would follow before Henderson would receive his shot against champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 144. In a Fight of the Night-earning effort, Henderson would emerge victorious, setting up an immediate rematch against Edgar at UFC 150 that he would also win by an even closer split decision.
It wasn’t until Henderson faced Pettis for a second time at UFC 164 that his reign of decisions was snapped via a first round armbar loss. A tough pill to swallow for the former champ, Henderson would nonetheless bounce back in his next appearance, earning a split decision over Josh Thomson at UFC on FOX 10.
While Henderson’s current streak of decisions can at least partially be attributed to the level of competition he’s been facing in the UFC — Josh Thomson, Gil Melendez, and Frankie Edgar hold just one loss via stoppage between them, after all — it would be hard to deny that Henderson has seemingly lacked the aggressive instinct that made him a WEC champion in recent years. Scheduled to face suplex savant Rustam Khabilov at Fight Night 42 this weekend, Henderson will need a stronger than usual performance if he is to ever be mentioned in the title picture while Pettis is still champion. Let’s hope he’s up to the task.