Welterweight experiment must yield positive results for Ben Henderson


For a man whose fighting style has been dismissed as boring on frequent occasion, former lightweight champion Benson Henderson has certainly thrown us a curve-ball with his decision to move up to 170lbs and fight Brandon Thatch in the main event of Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night 60 in Broomfield, Colorado.

Of course, this divisional migration was more about circumstance than design. When Thatch’s original opponent Stephen Thompson was forced to withdraw due to injury, the UFC were compelled to calibrate the show’s main event for a third time.

Matt Brown and Tarec Saffiedine had been initially slated as the headlining bout, but the former was pulled to take on Johny Hendricks at UFC 185 on Match 14th.

Moreover, Henderson’s desire to make a swift return to action after his questionable decision loss to Donald Cerrone at UFC Fight Night 59 in Boston on January 18th, meant that Joe Silva had an unlikely replacement conveniently on hand. Though, there is an argument to be made that Neil Magny, given his impressive five fight winning streak in 2014, be bumped up from his bout with Kiichi Kunimoto to take on Thatch.

So, on just two weeks’ notice, Henderson will buck the consensus trend of UFC fighters seeking to resurrect their careers, and try his hand in a weight class north of his own.

Which begs the question; what exactly does he stand to gain by doing so? After his knockout loss to Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night 49, Henderson had hinted at a possible move to welterweight, however, such aspirations were muted afoot of his bout with Cerrone.

Speaking on AXS TV’s ‘Inside MMA’ Henderson stated that the match with Thatch is likely be his sole outing at 170lbs, regardless, amid the first two-fight losing skid of his career, he must now negotiate a young, dangerous contender who has finished his last 10 opponents.

If he wins, which would be no mean feat, it surely makes more career sense to remain at welterweight and continue to test the waters there.

In three of his previous five fights at 155lbs, Henderson has been matched with opponents from the division’s top 5-Anthnoy Pettis, Dos Anjos and Cerrone – and on each occasion he has come up short.  So, for the foreseeable future, a bout of real significance is likely beyond him.

What’s more, while Anthony Pettis is the champion, the demand for him and Henderson to complete their trilogy will hardly be rife. When Pettis usurped ‘Smooth’ at UFC 164, it marked the end of a reign few people were engaged by.

Henderson’s inability to finish fights, coupled with the explicit espousing of his Christian faith, was a source of much ridicule. And, in truth, he simply lacked the star quality of Pettis.

He’s gone 2-2 since losing his belt and, at 31, is running the risk of declining into gatekeeper status. Which is why it is imperative at this point that he overcomes Thatch.

If not, in no small part due to his inability to needle turn, to paraphrase Dana White, the stock of this unquestionably talented fighter will plummet and could well find himself in a bi-divisional purgatory.

On the flipside, he demonstrated a noticeably more diverse striking repertoire against Cerrone and appears to still be evolving. Furthermore, he was always on the bigger side at lightweight, has a wealth of experience, poignantly in five round contests, and is superior grappler to Thatch.

A Henderson victory at the 1st Bank Center may also set a revolutionary precedent, which could inspire fellow fighters to forego absurd weight cuts and compete in a division that bests suits their health.

For now, though, Benson Henderson has arguably the most important fight of his life to win.

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