After Benson Henderson first defeated Frankie Edgar for the UFC Lightweight Title, there was considerable groundswell that Edgar was robbed by the judges’ scorecards. So much so, that Edgar was granted an immediate rematch. Due to the closeness of that fight, there seemed to be a feeling among some that Henderson was not a worthy champion, and that he still had more to prove.
So when the second Henderson-Edgar fight was even closer than the first one, the critics continued to pounce. It almost seemed as if some were wanting to put an asterisk next to Henderson’s reign because of a perceived “play it safe” attitude and inability to dominate opponents. Reporters went so far as to question him about it leading up to his fight with Nick Diaz at UFC on Fox 5 last night. It’s the trap that many of these same MMA reporters often used to fall in with respect another UFC champion, Georges St. Pierre: they assume that because Anderson Silva, Junior Dos Santos, and Jon Jones regularly finish opponents, other champions have to as well in order to display similar dominance.
In the case of Henderson, it seemed like no one ever stopped to think that he fought such close fights against Edgar because Edgar is really that good as well. Not taking anything away from some of the other champions just mentioned, but their records are filled with some challengers that have proven much less difficult to put away than Frankie. But, why give the loser credit when it’s easier to suggest that the winner could have done more? Plus, it’s much easier to write articles complaining about how little of a “draw” a champion is, which generally just include pointing to irrelevant statistics (i.e. buy rates, TV ratings, soundbites) than it is to keep coming out with material praising dominance.
Luckily for us all, last night, “Smooth” left no doubt who won the fight. For five rounds, Henderson dominated Nate Diaz, who many thought would be able to frustrate him with his boxing and jiu jitsu. Sure, he didn’t get a finish, but if anyone can say with a straight face that Henderson did not absolutely control and dominate that 25 minutes of action, then that person is a very good liar.
Hopefully, Henderson will now finally be accepted as a champion who has displayed similar dominance as the promotion’s other kingpins. With two successful defenses over Edgar and Diaz, there cannot be any more serious question as to whether he is worthy to stand alongside the likes of Jones and Silva. It could be argued that this was an impressive of back to back title defenses as we have seen in quite some time. And, on top of this, Henderson will likely get a chance to add someone like Gil Melendez to the list next.
Hopefully too, last night will serve as a lesson that the talent of champions should not be measured by artificial statistics such as “finishes” or completely irrelevant things like TV ratings. However, when it comes to this, I am not necessarily holding my breath.