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.
Still, at least Shogun didn’t suffer the mauling that BJ Penn did. The Prodidy Progidy Prodigy was utterly unprepared to face Rory MacDonald, and it showed. Penn is one of, if not the, best first round fighters in MMA. He’s taken the first round from virtually everyone he’s fought; GSP, Jon Fitch, Nick Diaz, etc. So when MacDonald had his way with him for the first five minutes, you knew things weren’t going to go well. In the middle of the second round, pushed up against the fence, eying the clock, Penn looked like he’d rather have been anywhere but where he was. He was broken. He managed to avoid getting finished – although the fight was close to being stopped in a couple instances – and he managed to preserve his career-long feat of never being knocked down. That’s about all you can credit him with. If it wasn’t already obvious, BJ needs a more permanent retirement. MacDonald needs a legit top-10 opponent. Josh Koscheck, the winner of Fitch-Maia, or Carlos Condit, who MacDonald called out, would suffice.
In the first Fox fight, Matt Brown picked up the biggest win of his career by knocking out Mike Swick with a beautiful combination in the second round. Brown and Swick engaged in a ground war in the first, with Brown nearly seizing a triangle choke and attempting a brabo choke. In the second, though, Brown found his range and tagged Swick with a left-right combination, felling Swick, whose head crashed against the turnbuckle. Expected to be outclassed in all facets of the game, Brown surprised everyone by out-grappling and out-striking the proven veteran.
The Gods of Violence smiled upon this night, but most of all they smiled upon the preliminary fights. Yves Edwards caught a bull-rushing Jeremy Stephens with a beautiful right hook, and followed up with precise ground and pound which left Stephens out cold. At 36, Edwards showed how a veteran’s technique and gameplanning can overcome youth’s unbridled power. And while that took home Knockout of the Night from Dana White, equally, if not more deserving, was Daron Cruickshank’s headkick KO of Henry Martinez. Martinez impressed in the first round, but only because of the freakish amount of damage he was able to absorb over the course of five minutes. Cruickshank’s assault would have been enough to drop a medium-sized hippo, but Martinez was able to weather the assault. However, keeping his hand low to guard his ribs, Martinez was caught with Cruickshank’s best Cro Cop impression and dropped, unable to recover. Cruickshank suddenly just popped up on everyone’s radar as a prospect to watch out for.
There was more to the prelims as well. Rafael Assuncao beat Mike Easton in a bit of a snoozer. Ramsey Nijem took a decision from Joe Proctor in a barn-burner that saw both men hurt and in danger of being submitted. Abel Trujillo mistook Marcus LeVesseur for his ex, and beat him half to death, culminating in some gruesome knees to the body in the second round. Dennis Siver overwhelmed Nam Phan, and Scott Jorgensen left $130,000 richer, as he snagged both Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night for his last second rear naked choke over John Albert. You couldn’t ask for much more. Between this card and the Pacquiao-Marquez war, this was one of the best nights for pure, unadulterated violence of the year.
Ben Henderson def. Nate Diaz via unanimous decision (50-43, 50-45, 50-45)
Alexander Gustafsson def. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Rory MacDonald def. B.J. Penn via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Matt Brown def. Mike Swick via knockout (punches) — Round 2, 2:31
Yves Edwards def. Jeremy Stephens via knockout (strikes) — Round 1, 1:55
Raphael Assuncao def. Mike Easton via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Ramsey Nijem def. Joe Proctor via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Daron Cruickshank def. Henry Martinez via knockout (head kick) — Round 1, 2:57
Abel Trujillo def. Marcus LeVesseur via TKO (knees) — Round 2, 3:56
Dennis Siver def. Nam Phan via unanimous decision (30-24, 30-25, 30-26)
Scott Jorgensen def. John Albert via submission (rear-naked choke) — Round 1, 4:59