Last year, I wrote this type of article about UFC 148, but discussed what went wrong for Chael Sonnen. Sitting back and thinking about it, there are a surprising number of similarities between that fight and the recent rematch between Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson.
Both were highly-touted second chapters in uncharacteristically ugly rivalries. Both saw an amazing fifth-round swing in the first fight that sealed the victory to add suspense to the rematch. Both had the same guy take home the win.
While the second loss to Silva was a bit controversial due to “gamesmanship” employed by Silva during the fight (short-grabbing, attempted greasing) and was somewhat unsatisfying due to how it came about (a wacky spinning backfist by Sonnen led to an ugly KO), Henderson losing to Pettis was clear-cut. Clean. Unquestionable.
Discussing what precisely went wrong, though, is downright impossible.
Ben Henderson has, without a doubt, the greatest submission defense in the lightweight division, possibly the greatest in MMA. The loss doesn't change this. He has consistently slipped out of submissions slapped on by far greater grapplers than Pettis.
His fight with Donald Cerrone at WEC 43 proved this on its own. Add to that the fact that he has beaten guys like Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Nate Diaz and it becomes genuinely perplexing that he could be forced to tap by a guy that was ragdolled by, of all people, now-featherweight Clay Guida.
In the post-fight interview, Henderson stated, “He got my arm, and he did a good job of twisting it the right direction. That’s a high-level armbar right there. Most guys might miss the technique behind it, but that was a pretty good armlock. My arm is killing me, dog.”
Looking back on it, though, Pettis demonstrated a solid, active guard in his loss to Guida. He also owns two largely-forgotten submission victories via triangle choke over Shane Roller and Alex Karalexis from 2010. That said, he simply doesn't rank in the top 10 when it comes to discussing lightweight grapplers.
One can infer from this that Pettis, quietly, has been working on his grappling for years now. Injuries, though, have kept him from appearing in the Octagon with any serious frequency. When he has gotten a fight in, they have been lightning-quick knockouts.
However, once again, Henderson has been devouring fighters with more experience and skills on the ground than Pettis. There simply isn't a way to get past that when analyzing this loss.
So what went wrong for Benson Henderson?
He lost. It's as simple as that.