The Sunday Aftermath

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After two long, arduous, repetitive weeks of performance enhancing drug discussion in MMA it was finally back to the fights this weekend. It may not have been the most gripping line-up of bouts on paper but, in practice, it turned out to be particularly fun.

Smooth Henderson

The apex of all the cage competition this weekend took place on Saturday night in Broomfield, Colorado as former UFC lightweight champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson stepped in on just two weeks notice to rise a weight division and face highly touted prospect Brandon Thatch. For different reasons, it may have been the toughest task of either man’s career as Thatch had a huge size advantage but had never faced anyone as experienced.

It was Henderson who opened up the action with a low kick to the front leg of his opponent followed quickly by a right hook to the body. Thatch took the centre of the Octagon from the start and landed a nice left kick to the body which Benson identically answered before getting off his hooks to the body off the back foot. Thatch settled though and landed another kick to the ribs followed by a head shot off each hand as he got “Bendo” backing up against the fence for a second. Henderson then briefly dropped an off balance Thatch with a push kick followed by a couple of right hooks to the body and head. Thatch remained aggressive though and landed a number of shots, the best of which was a high kick after a missed flying knee, as the first round ended.

For Thatch to now win he would have to make history after all of his previous wins came in the first round. Henderson looked the quicker man throughout and his avoidance of Thatch’s shots early in the second showed that again as neither man landed anything of note for half a round. A couple of leg kicks from Thatch were the first real meaningful strikes and were replied to by the right hook to the body which Henderson used to great effect all night. Thatch continued to struggle to land shots but when he did, a kick to the head of Henderson changed it all. As Benson circled away, Thatch did well to close down the enclosure with a spinning back kick to the body. Henderson was able to escape, though, and landed that right to the body again before eating a long jab as he tried to move out of the firing line. Thatch was now timing his shots better and landed a picture perfect straight right hand as Henderson’s movement slightly lessened. A left hand from Thatch inside the last 90 second of the round again connected with Henderson before Thatch executed a beautifully timed throw. Henderson was able to get back to his feet but it was turning into target practice for Thatch as his reach came into play in a huge way against the less and less active former champ. Thatch then landed another throw/trip near the end of a round he decisively won.

After some much needed cornering advice from John Crouch, Henderson began to reestablish his movement and had much success darting in and out of range early in the middle round. Thatch did land a stiff right cross to the solar plexus early but ate a head kick and right hand as he waded forward shortly after. Henderson’s right hook again found a home on the body of Thatch but a couple of takedown attempts were unsuccessful. On the third, though, Henderson managed to connect his hands and drag Thatch south. On the floor, Henderson looked unbelievably slick and took the back with extraordinary poise. Thatch did well to control the choking arms of Henderson but was unable to stop him putting on the oxygen-sapping body triangle. With the round almost up, Henderson landed a few nice strikes from back mount before narrowly missing an armbar which allowed Thatch back to his feet late on.

It all came down to the championship rounds. They opened up the 4th with some tight in-fighting as both men showed beautiful technique in the pocket. A leg kick from Thatch then caused a separation to range which allowed Henderson to pop in with a low kick of his own followed by a left hook before moving out again. Thatch answered with a few jabs and a high knee but Bendo was successful yet again with a body shot before missing out on two takedown attempts. Again, though, number three was lucky for Henderson as he took it to the mat with a lovely double leg. Just like the first takedown, Henderson expertly took the back and defended the escape attempts. This time Thatch had nothing left. Henderson was able to flatten him out and keep his hands free before sinking in the rear naked choke. Thatch tried his utmost to pry the hands apart but his resistance was futile as he was forced to tap before seeing stars. After two successive defeats it was a much needed win for Henderson who may have found a new home at welterweight. For Thatch, after going four rounds with a former champion, it was a fight which should stand him in good stead in the future.

Blessed Holloway

In a card lacking much depth, the co-main event saw lanky featherweight’s Max Holloway and Cole Miller face off. It was Holloway who started the more loose, whipping in a series of hurtful leg kicks as Miller looked slightly rusty early on following a log absence from competitive action. Holloway looked extremely light on his feet as he switched up stances while throwing straight shots off both hands. To his credit, Miller kept his opponent at bay most of the time with a pawing front kick which constantly met its mark. Midway through the opening round the first thumping shot was landed as Miller ate a solid kick to the body. Miller quickly looked for the clinch after that and was attacking with a leg lock following a a wonderful sweep just as the round ended.

There was an exchange of jabs to start the second as both men attempted to establish their dominance from range. Miller somewhat quelled the movement of his opponent by attacking his front leg early but Holloway was able to slip shots and rip in with hooks of his own. The first takedown attempt from the grappling expert Miller came after that but Holloway defended well and landed a ferocious spinning back fist as they reset on the feet which he followed with two more shots right on the dome. As Holloway attacked the clearly hurt Miller after that, an unfortunate clash of heads occurred which caused a cut over the left eye of Miller. Thankfully the fight was able to go on. The best exchanges of the fight came directly after the stoppage as both men threw with heat before Holloway got a late takedown to close out the frame.

Miller looked frustrated between rounds as he complained about the headbutt. And it looked like that frustration did nothing but drain his energy as Holloway was much the fresher in the third. The Hawaii native was aggressive from the bell and darted in with a series of attacks – knocking Miller to the floor following another clean spinning back fist. Holloway backed away, though, and allowed the dangerous submission artist back to his feet before hurting Miller again with a plethora of head seeking bombs. Three straight left hands had Miller stumbling while a counter right from Holloway had him clinching for survival. The desperate Miller pulled guard as the seconds ticked down but, intelligently, Holloway stood up again and landed a huge spinning wheel kick as the final hooter sounded. After a exciting whirlwind of a fight the judges gave Holloway the unanimous decision victory as he moves to five wins in a row since his defeat by Irishman Conor McGregor. Next up for Holloway is featherweight veteran Cub Swanson as Jon Anik announced in the post fight interview what should be another rip roaring bout.

 

Storm Damage

Outside of the UFC there was plenty of other action to whet the appetite of MMA fans this weekend. Firstly, World Series of Fighting returned with a Thursday night card which flew under the radar for the most part. Importantly, though, the main event saw tip bantamweight prospect Marlon Moraes win a quality decision win over the previously unbeaten Josh Hill after a good start from Hill. Moraes looked much improved in all areas and cannot be too far away from a UFC call after defending his WSOF belt for the first time. Outside of that blistering main event the biggest name on the card was Cody McKenzie. The former UFC man returned from a short retirement to lose via disqualification to Andrew McInnes after headbutting his opponent while on the ground.

Then, on Friday, the back-on-track Bellator produced a fun little card. On the undercard there were impressive wins for Julia Budd in the newly former women’s division and exciting prospect Chris Honeycut while Daniel Weichel pulled off the upset against the promotion’s former featherweight champion Pat Curran in the co-main event. Topping the bill, though, was the match-up of former middleweight champion Alex “Storm” Shlemenko against kickboxing and MMA legend Melvin Manhoef. After an enjoyable bak-and-forth first round the second didn’t last long as the Russian caught Manhoef with a stiff spinning forearm to the face which put the Dutchman’s lights out. Just link Benson Henderson, Shlemenko got the badly needed W After two promotional defeats in a row and now will have visions of regaining his title later this year.

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