Fight Picks – UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Thatch

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On the 12th of November 1993 the first ever UFC event took place in front of a raucous crowd in the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. Now, on Saturday night, over 20 years later, the Octagon returns to the state for the 8th time as the the 1stBank Centre in Broomfield plays host to what is a pretty unappealing night of bouts.

Benson Henderson vs. Brandon Thatch

Originally, Matt Brown vs. Tarec Saffiedine was due to headline the event but an injury to the Belgian saw Stephen Thompson’s bout with Brandon Thatch moved to the top. Then, “Wonderboy” was forced out of the fight with a rib injury and the meeting of two of the welterweight division’s top prospects was unfortunately cancelled. Now, instead, we get a prospect, although one upwards in age, against a former UFC champion in Benson Henderson. After losing three fights recently at 155 lbs, this will be Henderson’s first fight with an extra 15 pounds on his back. At the lower weight class, “Bendo” won the UFC gold in defeating Frankie Edgar after moving over from the WEC. He went on to defend that title three times before losing it to Anthony Pettis and going 2-2 in his next four. Thatch has yet to reach such heights. The Denver native, who has only one loss in his MMA career, will be fighting in his home town on Saturday looking for his 12th professional win. Amazingly, all eleven of Thatch’s career victories have come inside the fight round – 7 via KO, 4 via submission. In the UFC, Thatch has fought twice, knocking out Justin Edwards in his debut before submitting Paulo Thiago last time out.

No matter the weight class, we know what Benson Henderson will bring. He is a tough, durable, well-rounded scrapper who will claw to try and win every aspect of the fight. He doesn’t hit with the most power in the UFC but Henderson is a volume striker inside and out who will be in your face from second one. To that, he adds some solid takedowns and an ever improving jiu-jitsu game. Thatch is much different. He is a tall fighter who uses his reach well in all areas. On the floor Thatch transitions extremely quickly and uses his long limbs to tie up opponents. Striking is where he most excels, though. The 29 year old is a Muay Thai specialist who has one of the most explosive kicking, clinch and striking game in the sport today.

In the opening round, Thatch is unbelievably hard to stop offensively because of his all-action style. That will be Henderson’s first job. Quell the tide, avoid the barrage of shots and get out of the first round. If he can do that, and bring it to deep waters, you’d have to favour the man with more experience. If this were a three round fight, I’d probably pick Thatch to go all-out and finish it early, but as it’s five rounds it’s only natural to assume he will take a slightly more calculated approach. I think that could work against him. I think Henderson will be light on his feet early and look for enough takedowns when Thatch gets over aggressive that it’ll work to tire him out and make him think about going in so hard. As the fight goes on it’ll favour Henderson and I think his gas tank will help him stay on top late while his opponent’s empties.

Pick – Henderson via TKO

Max Holloway vs. Cole Miller

Oversaturation is the only excuse for the rest of a card personified by the co-main event between featherweight fighters Max Holloway and Cole Miller. Both nowhere near the upper echelon of their class and are probably best known to Irish fans for being previously scheduled opponents for Conor McGregor. Miller pulled out of the UFC Dublin main event with a thumb injury while Holloway took the Irishman three rounds on the night McGregor tore his ACL in Boston. Since then Holloway has gone on a real rampage through the division, winning four on the bounce against Chope, Fili, Collard and Corassani. Miller has also been in good form as of late, winning three of his last four – although he hasn’t fought in over a year since submitting Sam Sicilia 13 months ago.

In the featherweight division it’s odd to have a fighter of nearly 6ft tall. In this fight, both men are within an inch of it. Miller tries to use his height more than Holloway as part of his game. The TUF 5 veteran isn’t the most powerful striker in the world but has a long jab and kicks a lot from the outside. On the ground is where he really excels, though, with his long limbs. Miller has 15 career submissions and is a danger everywhere on the floor. At 23 years of age Holloway is still improving everywhere. The Hawaii native has a developing wrestling and jiu-jitsu game but his striking is the real weapon at the moment. Holloway has fast, long, powerful strikes which he isn’t afraid to throw. In combat sports we often speak about a “puncher’s chance.” In this fight I see Miller having a “submitter’s chance.” If he can drag it to the floor, he can submit Holloway. Everyone knows that; especially Holloway. I see Miller going hard for the takedown early and not getting it. From there, Holloway should open up with his hands and have a relatively easy night.

Pick – Holloway via KO

Jim Alers vs. Chas Skelly

Outside of the top two, there really isn’t much to talk about apart from the meeting of Jim Alers and Chas Skelly – also in the featherweight division. A former Cage Warriors champion with a Conor McGregor feud still simmering, Jim Alers is well known this side of the pond. Skelly is slightly less known over here but is a quality prospect in the division with a 13-1 record, coincidentally the exact same as Alers. Skelly’s sole career loss came against blue chipper Mirsad Bektic while he has wins over Daniel Pineda, Tom Niinimaki and Sean Soriano. Alers has been much less active than he would like in his UFC career to date. The American has won his only fight in the year since signing against Alan Omer but has victories over veterans Graham Turner and Martin Svensson just before his UFC stint started.

These two men have a very similar approach to fighting. Skelly is aptly named “The Scrapper” as he fights and scratches for every advantage he can get. He is a former NAIA all-American wrestler out of Oklahoma state and uses his base extremely well inside the cage. Alers is also a fantastic wrestler who had cardio for days and likes to grind opponents before finishing them. On the feet both men have improving hands and it may turn into a back-and-forth kickboxing match if it doesn’t hit the deck. I see both of these guys being happy to take this fight to the floor. Skelly is extremely good in the transitions and will try to latch onto a submission or advance position. Alers, on the other hand, could look to control the fight for long periods and do some damage before upping the pace later in the fight. This really is a pick ’em fight but I think Alers’ gas tank might see him through in the end.

Pick – Alers via decision

Neil Magny vs. Kiichi KunimotoMagny dominates and wins a decision
Dan Kelly vs. Patrick Walsh Walsh wins a close decision
Michel Prazeres vs. Kevin LeeLee grinds out a decision
Ray Borg vs. Chris KeladesBorg ends an exciting fight with a rear naked choke
Nik Lentz vs. Levan MakashviliLentz via blanket
Efrain Escudero vs. Rodrigo de LimaLima take an uninspiring decision
Zach Makovsky vs. Tim ElliottMakovsky take the decision in a exciting whirlwind of a brawl
James Moontasri vs. Cody PfisterPfister gets the KO in his UFC debut

FIGHT OF THE NIGHT

Holloway vs. Miller

PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT

Henderson and Borg

BET OF THE WEEK

This week I’m going for a 5/2 accumulator of Makovsky, Borg, Holloway and Lentz.

START TIMES (GMT)

Early Prelims – 12.30am on UFC Fight Pass

Prelims – 1am on BT Sport

Main Card – 3am on BT Sport

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma