Tuesday, 23 April 2013 09:12
It probably seemed like such a good idea at first.
A champion fresh off a successful title defense using his post fight interview time to take a knee and propose to his girlfriend in front of an arena full of fans, not to mention millions watching at home? If you can get past the whole cage fighting thing, that's like the saccharine ending to a feel-good Disney movie. One can see how Benson Henderson thought this would be the perfect moment to pop the question to his special lady.
What the champ probably didn't count on was 13,500 of Gilbert Melendez's closest friends attempting to boo him out of the building.
In retrospect, it was probably a bit on the overly-optimistic side for Henderson to expect a warm reception after defeating the final Strikeforce lightweight champion in the house that Scott Coker built.
But that's the thing when it comes to Henderson: he's got a habit of doing things his own way. How many other world champions put on a uniform and stand behind the counter at a small grocery store all day when they go home to visit their mothers? Have you ever seen anyone other than Henderson not only fight with a toothpick in his mouth, but turn in the performance of his career while doing so? In an age where many top level fighters flock to super-camps like Jackson's and Tristar, isn't it refreshing to see an elite fighter not only stick with the once little known gym where he first got his feet wet in the sport, but actually be wildly successful doing so?
Henderson may be developing a reputation for winning title fights by the skin of his teeth - more on that in a minute - but so far whatever he's doing seems to be working out just fine for him. The champ is on a seven fight undefeated streak in the UFC with his only loss since 2007 coming at the hands of Anthony Pettis back in the WEC. He just pocketed a disclosed payday of $200,000 for his victory over Melendez, which is up considerably from the $78,000 he made back in December for beating Nate Diaz. Perhaps most importantly he'll soon be marrying a woman who, judging from appearances, he seems to be crazy about.
Something tells me a chronically upbeat maverick like Henderson isn't about to let something as ultimately trivial as an arena full of booing fans bring him down. He just doesn't seem like the type who puts too much stock into what others think - especially when he's got so much to celebrate at the moment.
Is Henderson the real deal?
As you may already be aware, with his latest victory over Melendez, Benson Henderson is building up quite a portfolio of razor-close title defenses. Bendo has done nothing but win inside the UFC Octagon, but since capturing the lightweight title he has rarely done so in the dominant fashion of fellow champions like Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Georges St. Pierre. What's more, he has yet to finish an opponent in the UFC.
Before we all rush to declare Henderson a weak champion though, it's important to keep in mind he's only recently gotten in the habit of winning by the skin of his teeth. Melendez and Frankie Edgar may have both given him all he could handle, but is there any shame in being just a hairsbreadth better than two of the best lightweights on Earth?
It's not like Henderson hasn't outclassed opponents in the past either. In his last title defense, Henderson was clearly on a higher level than challenger Nate Diaz in every aspect of the game. Before that he steamrolled Clay Guida to earn his shot at then-champ Edgar's belt. You'd have to go back to Henderson's 2010 photo-finish loss to Anthony Pettis in the WEC to find the last time he was in a close fight before capturing the UFC lightweight strap from Edgar last year. His prior WEC title defenses before the loss to Pettis? Henderson won both of those via guillotine choke.
What's more, the only truly dominant champion in UFC lightweight history to date has been BJ Penn, whose reign lasted a mere three title defenses before he was ultimately dethroned by Edgar. Lightweight is arguably the most talent-rich division in the UFC, so it's only natural to expect a comparatively high level of parity among top fighters.
Henderson may not be turning in the kind of performances that leave us scratching our heads trying to figure out what kind of unheralded phenom it's going to take to ever pry the belt from his grasp, but who says there's anything wrong with that? It seems unfair to hold every champion to the standard of a preternatural talent like Jon Jones. There's something to be said for an athlete of "merely" above average gifts rising to the top of his sport through an unflagging work ethic and the desire to be the best.
The Alpha Male Conundrum
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Urijah Faber has never lost inside the UFC Octagon unless a belt was on the line, but he hasn't been successful in a title match since 2008. Wait, before you fall asleep on your keyboard or contact PETA to protest my flogging of a horse that's about to drop over dead, hear me out.
It's tough to read a story about Faber without some mention of his title shot woes. Some believe the California Kid's current three fight winning isn't enough to land him in title contention because had ample chances to win a championship in the past and came up short, whereas others espouse the theory Faber is the logical top contender from both a sporting and a business perspective.
After this past Saturday, it may not be too much longer before Faber's teammates Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes are talked about in the same light.
Call it the Team Alpha Male Conundrum if you will. Like Faber, both Benavidez and Mendes were soundly defeated in prior title shots by the champions in their respective weight classes, but they also appear to be a cut above everyone else in their divisions. Unlike the charismatic Faber, it may be hard to sell fans on the idea of either Benavidez or Mendes as credible challengers given how things turned out for them last time.
Before his TKO victory over Darren Uyenoyama on Saturday, Benavidez was coming off a convincing loss to champion Demetrious Johnson back in January. Ordinarily this would put him at least a year or two away from another crack at the belt, but featherweight is arguably the thinnest division in the UFC. It's not inconceivable Benavidez could find himself once again going up against Johnson with twelve pounds of gold on the line before 2013 is up.
For his part Mendes was definitively outclassed by Jose Aldo back in January of 2012, but has since scored three first round knockouts. Sure two of those victories were over fighters who probably had no business in the cage with a talent at Mendes' level, but his impressive knockout of Darren Elkins on Saturday showed he has made serious gains in the striking department since he fought for the belt.
Aldo/Mendes II may not be a fight the world is clamoring for - and considering the abysmal PPV buyrate for UFC 142 it appears North America at least wasn't exactly amped on it in the first place - but Mendes is certainly doing his best to make the argument he deserves another shot at the gold. Let's hope the UFC have the good sense to put it on free TV next time around.
Matt Brown proves he's no joke
If you remember Matt Brown's stint on The Ultimate Fighter back in 2008, there are likely two things you took away from it. First, for some reason the other fighters on the show were fond of talking up the taciturn Brown using the type of hyperbolic one liners usually reserved for Chuck Norris. Second, he lost in the quarter final round to Amir Sadollah via triangle choke.
From there Brown's career wasn't exactly the stuff legends are made of. He went an even 5-5 in UFC competition heading into last year.
Then a funny thing happened. He quietly picked up a trio of wins on the undercards of a few shows, thereby earning himself a date with Mike Swick on the main card of last December's UFC on FOX 5.
Most fans and pundits alike expected Swick to walk away with the victory, but Brown had other ideas. He knocked Swick out in the 2nd round of a highly entertaining fight. With the victory, Brown earned himself the winningest record of any UFC fighter in 2012.
Despite this feat, he was still an underdog heading into his bout with late replacement Jordan Mein. Too bad nobody remembered to tell that to Brown. He and Mein put on what may have been the round of the year in the opening frame of the contest. Brown was nearly finished by a liver kick in the first, but was able to survive and later lay a whooping on Mien in the second round that left Big John McCarthy little choice but to stop the fight.
The question now is what do you do with Brown next? He's on a tear at the moment, but nobody is seriously considering him a threat to GSP's title (and rightly so). The next logical step is to match him up with a ranked welterweight and see if he rises to the occasion. May I humbly suggest Brown versus Martin Kampmann? The very announcement of a fight like that would doubtlessly have the local fire department on standby in the event there were any barns in a 20 mile radius of the arena it was scheduled for.