For Nate Diaz, overcoming the mobility and versatility of Benson Henderson will be a daunting task.
The champion moves quite well, packs a wallop in his punch and has some of the best submission defense in the division. The guy is remarkably difficult to finish.
Stopping Henderson's takedowns is crucial if Diaz hopes to keep himself in this fight. Henderson will likely look to utilize a stick-and-move approach until he eats a shot that disrupts his comfort, at which point the wrestling will likely come into play.
Can the champion out-wrestle the challenger? You bet he can.
Does the champion really want to tangle with Diaz on the mat? I’m not wholly convinced that’s the case. I do however, feel Henderson will look to rack up big points early, and I suspect he’ll do so by shooting takedowns in the latter portions of each round after doing his best job of mimicking Pernell Whitaker’s fluid movement.
Stick-and-move for the bulk of each round, build a point advantage and seal the deal with a takedown to close each frame. That’s a solid plan of attack and “Bendo” is an intelligent fighter who will do what it takes to hold onto UFC brass.
But he’s got himself a problem, and that problem comes in the form of a man who was born to fight. Nate Diaz is a finisher and he’s really come into his own over the last few years.
In order for Nate Diaz to be the first Diaz brother to seize gold in the octagon, he’s going to have to keep his jab in Henderson’s face from the beginning of the bout to the bitter end—which he can do.
If Nate Diaz moves forward and remains wary of Henderson’s takedowns, he can capitalize on his six-inch reach advantage and abuse Henderson. It’s unlikely he’ll put the current champion away with strikes alone, however. Nate’s got to put a pugilistic beating on Ben, and he’s got to be constant in his offensive attack, never letting Henderson settle in and find his range. If he can do that he can create cracks in the psyche of the champion and force the mistakes he’ll need to leap on a late submission.
Nate Diaz isn’t likely to win a unanimous decision over Benson Henderson. His best bet is to be aggressive from the outset, be wary of the takedowns and when a hole makes itself known, leap in and work for a submission finish.
Look for the triangle choke to be a threat Henderson has difficulty defending. Just don’t expect an early finish: he’s too resilient for that. Nate’s got to force Henderson to question himself. In those fleeting moments of doubt, windows will open and Nate Diaz is perfectly capable of snaking his way right through those confined spaces and putting an end to Henderson’s reign as champion.
Follow Matt Molgaard on Twitter.