Even in a non-title bout, Benson Henderson had an opportunity to distinguish himself among the elite in the 155-pound division. But with a controversial split-decision win over Josh Thomson, Henderson only further established himself as one of UFC's most divisive stars.
There's nothing Henderson himself can do about the mind-boggling 4-to-1 decision given by the tiebreaking judge. Well, except never let the fight go the distance in the first place. Though Saturday night's victory moves Henderson to a stellar 19-3, he's hardly been dominating:
It's now been over four years since Henderson took a fight's decision out of the judges' hands, a perplexing stat for one of the best lightweights. Though the victories continue to pile up, public patience has to be wearing thin with the supremely talented 30-year-old who continues to insist on long, tight fights that offer almost no answers.
Indeed, after two losses to Anthony Pettis, it appears highly unlikely that Henderson will receive another title shot. Former top contender T.J. Grant figures to get that fight against Pettis if the duo can get healthy on relatively similar timetables. For now, it's totally unclear who Henderson might face next, especially given that a rematch with Thomson does not appear in the cards.
In fact, Thomson asserted after the fight that he might retire after suffering a broken thumb in the first round. Thomson did an admirable job of battling through while Henderson rallied, despite essentially fighting with one hand. But, per Fox Sport's Damon Martin, the raw emotion from Thomson after the fight suggested a devastated fighter:
This might be it. The Gilbert fight, that to me was a close fight, but I can see how it went either way. This fight I felt like I won. I won with one hand. I beat the former UFC champion, it was the guy who was here for two years, and I beat him with one hand. That's what I can't stomach. I'm a better fighter, that's what pisses me off.
I had this all in my head. A 15-, 16-week camp will really get to you. I'm no spring chicken. I just love this sport. It was kind of coming up before the title fight was offered, a little bit. There's a possibility (I would have turned down the title shot) because what's the point of winning the title if you're not going to be fighting much longer? I don't want to do that to the UFC either.
In reality, Thomson was the only fighter who entered the bout with a realistic shot at Pettis. Considering all the scrambles where Thomson could not put Henderson away, it seems reasonable to argue that the injury was what made the fight close in the first place.
The 35-year-old may have lost his last best chance at a UFC belt, especially considering the rehab time he will need if he decides to launch a comeback. If there's any consolation for Thomson, it's that the Pettis and Davis injuries mean that there is unlikely to be a title bout soon. The prolonged search for a clear-cut lightweight contender buys Thomson time at one final run.
It's unfortunate, because a win would have likely solidified Thomson as that No. 1 contender. Many fans believe he fulfilled that role anyway. But for now, Henderson's victory leaves the lightweight field as convoluted as ever.