There’s not much that’s wrong with either former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson or prospective top contender Josh Thomson. Both fighters are very well-rounded. They both are good at landing strikes without absorbing too many. They both can land takedowns. Both have a handful of career wins by submission. They’re both very solid fighters.
It’s also nice to see Thomson finally get the respect he deserves as a fighter. Not long ago, people spoke of Thomson as if he was washed up, a fighter no longer relevant in the deep lightweight division. This was despite Thomson going 1-2 against Gilbert Melendez and being very competitive in all three fights. In fact, a lot of people believed Thomson deserved to win his third fight against Melendez.
Now that Thomson has knocked out Nate Diaz… suddenly he’s first in line for a title shot. Don’t get me wrong, I like Thomson and think he’s a very good fighter, but not THAT good. There are some flaws in his game that championship-level opponents should be able to exploit.
At the top of the list is Thomson’s takedown defense. He’s been taken down 35 times in his career, only successfully defending 55 percent of his opponents’ takedowns. It’s very difficult to win at a high level consistently with below-average takedown defense. Sure enough, in Thomson’s last two losses he was taken down a combined 11 times by Melendez and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
That’s a flaw I feel Henderson should be able to take advantage of, even though his takedown game hasn’t been as effective as I would like recently. Henderson was 0/3 in takedowns in his loss to Anthony Pettis in August, and previously was 0/4 in takedowns in his title defense against Melendez. Even with those performances, Henderson has landed 2.8 takedowns per 15 minutes at 47 percent accuracy, very respectable numbers. I hope for Henderson’s sake that his lack of success in his last two fights is just a slump and not a sign of things to come.
One thing Henderson will have to do in this fight is stay disciplined and avoid submission attacks from Thomson. Before his loss to Pettis, Henderson established a reputation of being nearly impossible to finish by submission – his opponents had attempted 32 submissions against him without any of them succeeding. Still, it’s far better to stay out of submission holds than to have to escape them. Against Pettis, Henderson finally was caught in a submission he couldn’t escape, and he ended up tapping out.
Apart from submissions, Henderson has the edge on paper in every category. He lands more significant strikes per minute and absorbs fewer. He lands takedowns more frequently while being taken down less often. He’s faced consistently tough competition throughout his UFC/WEC career while Thomson’s overall opponent strength is closer to average.
It all adds up to Henderson being a strong favorite to win the fight. Henderson is a championship-level competitor, and like it or not, it takes exceptional talent in some fashion to defeat that kind of opponent. Thomson is a very well-rounded fighter and a tough opponent for anybody, but he simply doesn’t have any one standout quality that will allow him to beat Henderson. In a fight that’s likely to go the distance, it’s hard to see Thomson cobbling together enough strikes, takedowns, and submissions to out-point Henderson here.
Pick: Benson Henderson by decision
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
I have no interest in betting on Henderson at -280, but what does interest me is Henderson by decision at -114. I generally don’t like betting props because it’s very tricky to figure out where the lines should be compared to where they actually are. For this particular fight I think it makes sense. All of Henderson’s UFC wins have been by decision. Meanwhile, Thomson hasn’t been finished in a fight since UFC 49 in 2004. If Henderson wins, I think it’s by decision, so I’m willing to risk $1.14 to win $1.00 on it.