The UFC returns to Fox on Saturday night with a familiar name: former lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who has made three appearances on the network fight cards since they began in 2011. Of course, his first was an untelevised bout against Clay Guida, but that was an important one all the same; it's the fight that secured his title shot against Frankie Edgar.
You know the rest of the story. Henderson would beat Edgar, then beat him again, then beat Nathan Diaz and Gilbert Melendez and still never receive the respect he deserved. This is likely because, with the exception of beating the brakes off Diaz, Henderson's bouts were all close. And then, when the title reign came to an end, it came at the hands of the man who ended his World Extreme Cagefighting run in glorious fashion: Anthony Pettis.
So this is Henderson's rebound fight, and it's a tough out. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
As always, any numbers you find in my betting preview are generously provided by Reed Kuhn from Fightnomics.
Let's get this preview train rolling.
Darren Elkins has made a career, at least recently, of beating opponents many felt he wouldn't beat. Michihiro Omigawa. Diego Brandao. Steven Siler. Hatsu Hioki. Elkins' lone loss since dropping to featherweight came at the hands of Chad Mendes, and that's nothing to be embarrassed by.
Going into this bout with Jeremy Stephens, Elkins is once again the underdog. And once again, he has every chance of pulling the upset.
Stephens has very good punching power, though he is perhaps far less accurate with that power than he should be. Elkins is no wizard of the stand-up striking game, of course, and so he will need to get the fight to the ground where he can work his control game. If he can do that with regularity, he will take home the upset win.
I don't see it happening, however. Elkins has a below-average chin, and though Stevens won't hit everything he lands, he will land something. Eventually. And once he does, Elkins is going down. Still, I can't recommend a play on this one as there is no value.
Prediction: Jeremy Stephens by KO
Value Play: None
This is a matchup between two fighters who last fought in November. Cerrone famously enjoys keeping busy because, well, he has to; the man spends the prodigious amounts of money he makes just as soon as he gets the check, preferring the feeling of buying whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, over the act of saving money and planning for his future.
Adriano Martins made his UFC debut by beating the underrated Daron Cruickshank by submission at a UFC Fight Night card in Brazil. Facing Cerrone is a massive step up in competition from what he's used to; the "Cowboy" has an accurate jab and plenty of power, though his actual power strike accuracy is below the UFC average.
Martins' best chance of winning the fight is on the ground; there's very little chance he will last three rounds standing with Cerrone. He is highly dangerous on the ground, though Cerrone is too. And Cowboy is dangerous off his back, with an offensive guard that spells trouble for anyone willing to stay there long enough.
At the sportsbook, heavy money is coming in on Martins. He opened at plus-185 and is now clocking in at plus-155. But that also means Cerrone has dropped from his opening line of minus-265 to just minus-185, which means I can confidently suggest a fairly decent play on him. If he stays below minus-200, put money on him; if he goes back below the minus-200 line, stay away from this one.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone by KO
Value Play: Cerrone up to minus-200
Stipe Miocic heads into UFC on Fox 10 with a four-inch reach advantage over Gabriel Gonzaga. This normally wouldn't be a big deal for a heavyweight to overcome, but Miocic is also a highly accurate jab and power striker.
Couple that with Gonzaga's propensity for being knocked down—and the fact his total head strike defense clocks in at a below-average 74 percent—and you are seeing some strong advantages for Miocic on paper.
Gonzaga does have one-punch knockout power, as we have seen in the past. Oh, and lest you forget about his knockout of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, it also extends to his leg striking. Gonzaga's 14.3 percent distance knockdowns per landed power strike is one of the highest I have ever seen.
Here's what the numbers tell us: If Miocic fights a smart bout, stays away from Gonzaga's power, relies on his foot speed and counter-attacks, he'll cruise to a win. If he gets cheeky and decides he wants to trade big punches with Gonzaga in the name of putting on an exciting fight, there's a very good chance he'll end up in a crumpled heap on the canvas.
I'm not predicting that outcome. I see Miocic fighting efficiently and taking home a unanimous decision.
Prediction: Stipe Miocic by decision
Value Play: No value. Stay away.
Benson Henderson, former lightweight champion of the world, has never been afforded the respect he should get.
This is likely because his time as champion was not filled with the kinds of finishes so many mistakenly consider the hallmark of a great fighter. Decision fighters are not good fighters, as the notion goes, which we all know is not true in the slightest.
Henderson's decision rate as champion was high because he was facing the very best lightweights the UFC had to offer. Should Josh Thomson defeat him on Saturday night and move on to fight for the lightweight championship, he will find himself in the same boat. The air is thin near the top of the mountain after all, and visibly setting yourself apart from the pack is a difficult proposition indeed.
But what of this matchup? I view it as a closer fight than the public odds are suggesting. I do believe Henderson has advantages, but they are perhaps not as large as the public would have you believe. He is clocking in at a near 3-to-1 favorite as of this writing; I believe that number should be 2-to-1 or slightly less.
Henderson's largest advantage in this fight lies in the clinch. Put simply, he is a much better clinch fighter than Thomson has ever been or likely ever will be.
Henderson spends 60 percent of his time in the clinch in a dominant position, with Thomson clocking in just 32 percent in the same metric. This leads Henderson to a clear game plan, though not the most exciting one: Press Thomson against the cage and keep him there while dropping back for the occasional double-leg attempt or hook combinations.
Thomson has a chance to win this fight via striking, and he has the power to put Henderson on the mat if he connects with a power shot to the button. I'm predicting Henderson wins a decision, but it will be a closer one than many think.
Still, Thomson is worth an underdog play here given the current lines. If he drops to plus-200 or below, there won't be any value remaining, so jump on it while you can.
Prediction: Benson Henderson by decision
Value Play: Josh Thomson