The UFC’s lightweight division has long been considered the most talent-rich weight class in all of mixed martial arts.
Simply put, there are no easy fights at 155 pounds. Everyone, from the lowest-ranked lightweight to the highest, is an absolute savage that can beat any man on any given night. Conversely, given how deep the talent pool is, it takes a special breed of fighter to rise up and reign over the division as champion.
Benson Henderson was well on his way to becoming the greatest lightweight champion of all time. Tied with B.J Penn for the most consecutive lightweight title defenses at three, Henderson was aiming for No. 4 when he stepped into the Octagon with Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Unfortunately for Henderson, it wasn’t his night. Pettis dethroned the MMA Lab product with a first-round submission victory and, once again, took a belt away from his nemesis.
He wants it back. Henderson wants the belt back badly and he’s determined to annihilate any foe placed in front of him to get there.
Henderson’s road back to the title begins this Saturday night against top contender Josh Thomson in the main event of UFC on FOX 10.
A former Strikeforce lightweight champion, Thomson is fresh off a thunderous knockout victory over Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 7 last April. “The Punk” is hell-bent and determined to add the UFC title on his mantle.
To help me analyze this fight card, I reached out to television personality and international fitness model, Roni Taylor-Parsons.
Taylor is the most-followed female Vegas personality and an absolute sports nut!
If you read my fantasy MMA Super Bowl card, I listed Taylor as my fictional backstage interviewer. You’re about to find out why.
Ciccarelli: We've got a fantastic lightweight fight, between No. 1 contender Josh Thomson and former champ Benson Henderson headlining UFC on FOX 10 this Saturday night. Originally, Thomson was supposed to challenge champion Anthony Pettis for the belt but once again injuries have thrown us a curveball. Do you think that, stylistically, Henderson is actually a tougher matchup for "The Punk?"
Taylor: I absolutely think Thomson is in for a rough ride on Saturday night. The Henderson that we saw lose the belt to Pettis will not be the same one that steps into the cage with Thomson this weekend. One thing we know about Ben is that he has a tenacious work ethic to grow and improve fight after fight.
The armbar submission loss to Pettis will only add fuel to the fire. It is no mystery that "Showtime" Pettis has incredible outside striking and a nasty ground game, but I think Henderson’s wrestling and overall athleticism will be the difference makers in this fight. Remember, Josh only averages a coin flip with his takedown defense and that is where I see Benson controlling the fight.
A few years ago, back when Henderson was the reigning WEC lightweight champion, Thomson wasn't impressed with him. In fact, the former Strikeforce champ was quoted as saying that "Henderson doesn't belong in the top 10."
Henderson would eventually go on to prove him wrong and become UFC champion, but do you think that, mentally, Henderson is motivated to make Thomson eat his words all these years later?
I don’t know that Henderson will necessarily be looking to shove "The Punk"’s words back into his own mouth. Ben will be coming into this fight determined to get a shot at the title belt again right away. Henderson’s nickname “Smooth” can be best seen as he maintains a calm demeanor competing at the highest levels. I honestly don’t think Henderson will allow Josh to get under his skin enough to allow emotion to be a factor in this fight.
Thomson is hot right now. He's coming off a win at UFC on FOX 7, where he became the first man to stop Nate Diaz with strikes. However, this will be Henderson's first fight since dropping the strap to Pettis. Who do you think will have their hand raised in the end?
I’ll call out Thomson’s suspect wrestling defense as his main weakness. I truly think that is where Benson will take control and dominate in the ground and pound. Have you seen the legs on the former UFC champ? Watch for the power double followed by some brutal striking from the top. I’m calling it right now: Henderson wins by TKO in the second round.
Regardless of who wins, do you see either Thomson or Henderson being able to stop Pettis? Henderson already lost to him twice. The first fight was razor close but Pettis put a stamp on him in the rematch. Would a third fight really be all that different?
I have all the respect in the world for "Showtime" Pettis and I personally love his flashy kicks and confident demeanor. I do however think that three out of five times, Henderson wins that fight. Pettis got his two wins out of the way up front, and now it's time for Benson to put a W on the board over the current champ.
Closing the distance to nullify the laser-guided kicks of Pettis was what Jeremy Stephens did when he gave Pettis a run for his money, split decision back in 2011. Strong wrestling used to close the distance, coupled with a little bit tighter ground game will be the keys to victory when "Smooth" gets his rematch later this year.
Who else do you think has the best chance of beating Pettis in the lightweight division right now?
Well, you’ve now heard me go on about how I think Benson takes the re-rematch, but let’s also not forget some of the other monsters at 155 lbs. Gilbert Melendez is only one or two good fights away from another title shot. He would pose a huge threat to Pettis due to his great wrestling, KO power and overall durability.
Or how about Khabib Nurmagomedov? This undefeated sambo champion has been wrecking people in the UFC and right now nobody even wants to fight him! You know you’re a badass when Nate Diaz doesn’t want to tangle with you.
Maybe we will get to see the winner of a possible Melendez/Nurmagomedov matchup gunning for the title next and I honestly think they both would have a great shot at dethroning the king.
The rest of the main card rounds out pretty nicely. In the co-main event, we have a heavyweight battle between Gabriel Gonzaga and Stipe Miocic. Who do you like in that one?
I think this will be Stipe’s toughest fight yet in the UFC and Gonzaga is not someone you want to take lightly. Just ask Mirko "Cro Cop." Stipe has shown very good footwork and is surprisingly fast for a man weighing 240 lbs. If he can avoid the random high kick from Gonzaga and control position with his wrestling, I think Stipe can eek out another decision victory or maybe even pull off a ground-and-pound TKO late in the fight.
Which fight are you most looking forward to on this card, besides the main event?
I can’t wait to watch "Cowboy" Cerrone dismantle Adriano Martins with his superior Muay Thai. I think Cowboy is going to use his bullwhip leg kicks to pick apart Martins, long enough for Adriano to drop his hands leaving the opening for a spectacular high-kick finish.
I am also excited to watch the undercard matchup between Eddie Wineland and Yves Jabouin. These two guys are super exciting to watch and I’m looking forward to an explosive battle. I think Eddie has something to prove after his loss to Renan Barao and I don’t see this fight making it out of the first round.
For more of Roni Taylor's MMA insight, follow her on Twitter @RoniTaylor