Benson Henderson is ready to begin his journey back to the 155-pound championship. He'll get started at UFC on Fox 10, where Strikeforce veteran Josh Thomson will look to build his own case for a title shot with a win over the former champion.
Five months ago, Henderson was only one win away from breaking the UFC record for consecutive lightweight title defenses. In an attempt to get that victory, "Smooth" was submitted by a familiar foe in Anthony Pettis, who also dethroned Henderson under the WEC banner.
A few months earlier, Thomson picked up an impressive victory over former title challenger Nate Diaz, who went the distance with Henderson at UFC on Fox 5. Becoming the first fighter to stop Diaz with strikes was enough to earn "The Punk" a matchup that could elevate him to No. 1 lightweight contender.
Will Henderson take an important step back toward reclaiming his belt, or can Thomson make a big move and earn a chance to claim the 155-pound strap?
As this pivotal lightweight bout approaches, here is closer look at how Henderson and Thomson match up against each other in all areas.
A fighter who usually does his best work on the ground, Josh Thomson unleashed a violent attack focused on kicking in his most recent outing. By forcing Nate Diaz to respect his leg kicks, "The Punk" was able to set up and land multiple head kicks and eventually landed one that led to a finish.
While Diaz had never been finished with strikes heading into his meeting with Thomson, Benson Henderson will be even more difficult to stop. The former champion has also never been knocked out and is a much more dynamic striker than Diaz, who leans heavily on his boxing and rarely throws kicks.
Because he has largely ignored the kickboxing aspect of MMA striking, Diaz absorbs strikes more frequently than Henderson. While the former The Ultimate Fighter winner has been touched by 43 percent of strikes thrown at him inside the Octagon, Henderson has only failed to avoid 34 percent of attacks aimed at him by UFC opponents.
Despite having an excellent chin, Henderson wouldn't be favored in a toe-to-toe slugfest with Thomson. He hasn't scored a knockout win in nearly five years, and the Strikeforce veteran has only been finished once in 25 career fights.
Where Henderson earns a small edge over Thomson in the striking department is with his unpredictability.
Aside from switching stances frequently, as he did against Diaz, Thomson has a fairly standard kickboxing approach. Henderson will get a bit more wild when he needs to, and throwing more volume could help in a matchup that is likely to be determined by the scorecards.
Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson are both very well-rounded fighters.
As good as the lightweights are when standing, they're equally skilled in the wrestling department and on the ground. Since joining the UFC roster, Henderson has scored 21 takedowns in eight bouts. Thomson, meanwhile, has picked up at least one takedown in each of his four career UFC appearances.
While both are solid wrestlers, Henderson and Thomson have had some trouble scoring takedowns against fellow high-level lightweights. Both were outwrestled in their most recent fights with Gilbert Melendez, and Henderson gave up seven takedowns in a pair of meetings with Frankie Edgar.
Don't expect either man to abandon wrestling against stiff competition on Saturday, but the chances of one of these contenders dominating the other with takedowns are slim.
Both holding jiu-jitsu black belts, Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson are about as good as it gets on the ground in the lightweight division.
Yes, Henderson was submitted by Anthony Pettis in his latest outing, but he's been notably difficult to submit for years. Prior to his loss to the now-champion, Henderson hadn't tapped out in more than six years, and he's only lost via submission twice in his MMA career.
Meanwhile, in 13 years as a professional, Thomson has never been submitted.
A submission is highly unlikely in this matchup. Also unlikely is either fighter being controlled by the other on the ground for five rounds.
Grappling could play an important role in scoring from round to round, but don't expect either man to dominate the other over the course of 25 minutes.
Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson both have experience of going five rounds, which will be important in this headlining matchup at UFC on Fox 10.
Obviously, "Smooth" had a number of championship fights inside the Octagon, but he also competed in multiple WEC title fights. Similarly, Thomson was a premier fighter under the Strikeforce banner for years and competed in multiple title fights with the promotion.
While Thomson has been out of action for a few months longer than Henderson, both men have taken relatively lengthy breaks. Thomson was out for 11 months heading into his win over Nate Diaz, so a layoff of nine months before fighting Henderson shouldn't be too detrimental.
Down to the smallest intangibles, this matchup should be tightly contested.
It's really tough to say where either fighter could pull away from the other in this matchup.
Ultimately, Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson are likely to battle to a narrow decision. Since May 2012, the elite lightweights have combined for three split decisions, and Saturday's main event should turn out to be another tightly contested matchup.
Henderson seems to have more luck with the scorecards in close fights, and he's been able to come through in big fights more often than Thomson.
The former UFC champion has won both fights he's seen go to split decisions, while Thomson came up short in his lone split decision with Gilbert Melendez. Henderson has also won seven of nine title fights under the UFC and WEC banners, and Thomson lost three of his four Strikeforce championship bouts.
With more success in big fights and more experience under the bright lights over the Octagon, Henderson should find a way to get back on track against Thomson.
Prediction: Henderson defeats Thomson by decision.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.