Benson Henderson is going to slip out of San Jose with his hardware intact—but just barely.
The UFC lightweight champion made his third successful title defense when he edged out the last man to hold the Strikeforce 155-pound strap—Gilbert Melendez in a split decision in the main event of UFC on Fox 7.
It was a back-and-forth affair over the course of the five-round scrap as both men had their share of high points. Throughout the fight, neither man was able to gain a definitive advantage over the other, but when it came to the judge's score cards, "Bendo" earned the the razor-thin nod.
The headlining bout was the icing on the cake to what ended up being a dynamite card from top to bottom. From the first fight to the last, the event delivered action-packed dust-ups and brutal knockouts at every turn.
Here's a look at the highs, lows and general awesomeness that went down in San Jose.
In a night filled with positive turns, Team Alpha Male can lay claim to several of them. The Sacramento-based camp walked out of the HP Pavilion going a perfect 3-0, with each victory coming by way of an impressive finish.
The Ultimate Fighter alum and bantamweight prospect T.J. Dillashaw set the tone for his teammates when he scored a first-round TKO over Hugo Viana. The 27-year-old stepped up to face the TUF Brazil alum on short notice when Francisco Rivera dropped out due to injury, and in the process, picked up his second victory in five weeks.
Dillashaw's win at UFC on Fox 7 makes it three straight for the former Season 14 TUF finalist and will put him in an interesting position in the bantamweight division.
With the 135-pound weight class being relatively thin, it seems possible the UFC could fast track Dillashaw and putting him in with a top 10-ranked opponent in his next outing. At the same time, it would also be well within the realm of understanding if the promotion chose to give Dillashaw at least one more mid-range fight before pushing him into deeper waters.
Joseph Benavidez notched the next victory on the night for the squad as he dominated Darren Uyenoyama from pillar to post in their bout on the FX portion of the card.
The former No. 1 flyweight contender clearly proved he's regained the position as Benavidez made Uyenoyama look as if he had no business sharing a cage in San Jose. The 28-year-old flexed his constantly improving striking skills as he battered the veteran at will, finally finishing him off with a devastating liver shot in the second round.
Benavidez will leave San Jose with back-to-back victories, and it will most likely earn "Jobe" another shot at Demetrius Johnson's flyweight title.
Running anchor for Team Alpha Male at UFC on Fox 7 was former No. 1 contender to the featherweight crown Chad Mendes. "Money" had added pressure riding on his bout with Darren Elkins as the race for the top of the 145-pound weight class has heated up over the past year. This created a position where Mendes could ill-afford a step back, and the 27-year-old answered the challenge with vigor.
Despite being originally slated to face Clay Guida, the former All-American wrestler handled the change of opponent with ease. Elkins came into the bout on a five-fight win streak, but Mendes salted the Indiana-native in 68 seconds to keep his title hopes alive.
The victory makes it three in a row for Mendes—all first-round finishes—and makes a solid case for him to face the winner of Jose Aldo versus Anthony Pettis at the end of the year.
It would be difficult to discuss Team Alpha Male's recent success without mentioning newly added striking coach Duane Ludwig. "Bang's" presence in Sacramento is showing through in a major way as the notoriously wrestle-heavy camp has been on a solid run as of late. Prior to the trifecta in San Jose, both Danny Castillo and Urijah Faber looked excellent in their most recent showings as well.
If this camp evolves to become monsters in the striking department, it could be hard times for the rest of the fighters in the lighter weight classes.
The welterweight division added a new member to their upper-tier when Matt Brown defeated Jordan Mein to kick off the action on the Fox portion of the card. "The Immortal" and the talented young Canadian put on one of the night's most exciting fights as they traded punches, knees and kicks at a hectic pace.
A frenzied first round saw both fighters buckle, but Brown ultimately proved to be the most durable as he scored the second-round stoppage victory. The win makes it five straight for the Ohio-based fighter and will certainly warrant his next opponent being one of the elite fighters in the weight class.
Another highlight on a night filled with impressive moments came from veteran Josh Thomson.
The former Strikeforce lightweight champion made his long-awaited return to the Octagon in brilliant fashion as he scored a TKO victory over former No. 1 contender Nate Diaz. "The Punk" launched himself into the 155-pound title picture by defeating the younger Diaz, and it will be interesting to see who the UFC will give him next.
The winner of Donald Cerrone vs. K.J. Noons or Jim Miller vs. Pat Healy both make sense, but with Thomson besting the fourth-ranked Diaz, those moves could be considered taking a step backward.
On a card with so many good moments, there were very few entries into this category. The most prominent situation which comes to mind is where Nate Diaz stands in his career.
Four months back, the Stocktonian was stepping in to fight Benson Henderson for the lightweight title, but after the loss to Thomson at UFC on Fox 7, the former TUF winner is floating in limbo.
The 28-year-old, this week, according to Dann Stupp and John Morgan of MMA Junkie.com, said that he was pondering a return to the welterweight division following his bout with Thomson. Considering how Diaz left the division after being rag dolled by a much stronger Rory MacDonald, returning to the weight class doesn't seem to make much sense.
Diaz has experienced much more success competing in the lightweight division. That being said, after losing to the AKA staple in San Jose, Diaz's position in the 155-weight class is a bit difficult to pinpoint.
Suffering back-to-back losses against the top fighters in the world is nothing to shake a stick at, but in the ultra-competitive realms of the welterweight and lightweight divisions, Diaz's backslide puts him in a difficult situation.
Should Diaz decide to stay at 155 pounds, he is more than capable of battling his way back up the ladder toward another title shot. On the other hand, if he does make the jump back to the wrestler-infested waters of the welterweight division, that journey would become all the more difficult.
The only other entry into this category that comes to mind is Frank Mir.
Despite coming into his fight with Daniel Cormier in peak physical shape, the former two-time champion simply didn't have an answer for anything the AKA-trained fighter brought to the table. The Las Vegas native was bullied around the cage for the entire fight, as the former Olympian swept the judge's scorecards for a unanimous decision victory.
While Mir looked solid at moments during the fight, the bigger question is how he responds to being pushed out of the divisional upper tier.
For the first time in his career, Mir has dropped back-to-back outings, and the loss to Cormier comes at a time when the heavyweight division is getting deeper. Since 2007, Mir has never been more than one or two wins away from earning another title opportunity, and those conditions change with his loss in San Jose.
At 33 years old, Mir still has time to make another run to the top of the weight class. But after suffering a loss where so much emphasis was put on his reinvigoration and career-altering adjustments, the question of how much he has left will certainly hover.
In recent weeks, this category has been dedicated to the strange happenings which occur at mixed martial arts events, due to the amount of knockouts and brutal dustings at UFC on Fox 7. I am dedicating this space to the awesomeness in San Jose. Out of the 12 fights on the card, eight came via referee stoppage—with the majority of said stoppages coming in stunning fashion.
The card fired off the launch pad as Yoel Romero starched Clifford Starks with a flying-knee KO in the first fight of the evening.
In the next tilt, Anthony Njokuani raised the bar a bit higher when he cut Roger Bowling's lights out with a sharp counter-left that put the Ohio-based fighter face down on the canvas.
The rest of the card featured fantastic displays of violence from Dillashaw, Benavidez, Mendes, Brown and Thomson, but perhaps the best of the night came from Myles Jury.
After a tactical first round that saw the lightweight prospect locked in a tactical grappling battle with opponent Ramsey Nijem, "The Fury" connected with a devastating right hand just as Nijem was charging that left the John Hackelman-trained fighter with blank eyes staring up at the arena lights.
The shot connected, and Nijem crumbled to the canvas with knockout auto-response "robot arms" rising into the air.
The bodies were dropping left and right at UFC on Fox 7, but the knockout chaos made it one of the most memorable cards in recent years.