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Have We Seen The Last Of Benson Henderson As A Lightweight Title Challenger?
After No. 1-ranked UFC lightweight Ben Henderson was knocked out by No. 5-ranked Rafael dos Anjos in a shocking main event upset at last night’s (Sat., August 23, 2014) UFC Fight Night 49 from the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, mouths were left gaping open and fight fans were left wondering just what would become of former champion “Smooth,” who has now been finished in two out of his last four bouts.
With dos Anjos looking the best he ever has thanks to the Muay Thai coaching of the respected Rafael Cordeiro, the ultra-talented 155-pound arena may have taken a short step ahead of Henderson.
He was unable to enforce his gameplan of pushing the pace on dos Anjos, instead being pushed backward and nailed with repeated power shots until a huge flying knee and left hook ultimately sealed his fate.
“Smooth” already has two losses to returning champ Anthony Pettis, making his current plight a more than difficult one. He’ll have to prove himself against a veritable murderer’s row of lightweight talent, and will probably have to win at least five quality bouts in a row (with a few finishes) if he ever wants to sniff a title shot.
Henderson was quick to say he’s still confident that he’ll get there, but that’s simply easier said than done. He’s undoubtedly one of the finest lightweights the Octagon has ever seen, but it’s beginning to look like he doesn’t fare so well when opponents take the fight to him.
He’s more suited to a pressure-centered style of his own, using his strength and wrestling to wear opponents down in the clinch and grind them down over five rounds. Henderson’s chin had never failed him until last night, but that’s a very disconcerting sign at this point in his career.
There was a time not all that long ago when Henderson said he wanted to defend his title so many times that he would be compared to arguably the greatest fighter of all-time, longtime former middleweight champ Anderson Silva. That may have been a bit premature.
So what doe the future hold for Henderson?
Potential opponents for him could include the loser of UFC 178’s upcoming co-main event bout between Donald Cerrone and debuting former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, the loser of UFC 181’s title fight between Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, or currently injured No. 3 Khabib Nurmagomedov when he returns from surgery.
Those are all tough bouts for Henderson, but he’ll have to beat those contenders and likely more to rise back up the ranks. It’s not exactly fair to say that he’s earned the moniker of a fighter who chokes in the biggest fights because he’s won several high-profile title bouts.
But many of those were controversial split decisions, and although he notched his first-ever UFC finish over Rustam Khabilov in June, top-quality foes like dos Anjos obviously won’t give in to his strategy.
It’s clear that he can no longer enjoy the cushion of having the name recognition and ranking advantage over his opponents. He’s going to have to go for broke and use all of his considerable skillsets in an effort to regain the once-prominent role he enjoyed for the past few years.
Have we seen the last of Benson Henderson as a truly legitimate title contender?
Photo: Mark D. Smith for USA TODAY Sports