The UFC returns to Fox for the tenth time this Saturday night for another stacked, free card as former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson faces off against former Strikeforce lightweight titleholder Josh Thomson.

Henderson will enter the Octagon for the ninth time. He comes off of an August loss to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164. The MMA Lab fighter held the WEC lightweight strap for a little over a year, before losing it to Pettis back in December 2010. After a seven-fight winning streak in the UFC, including a title win and three defenses, he lost his second Zuffa belt to the same man. Bitter and hungry after eight decisions in a row before his recent loss, Henderson will most certainly be looking for a dazzling finish over Thomson.

American Kickboxing Academy’s Josh Thomson is a longtime veteran of professional MMA. He made his pro debut back in January 2001, and only two and a half years later, he made his Octagon debut at UFC 44. After going 2-1 in the promotion, he had one successful bout in Pride, before entering Strikeforce for the majority of his career. Thomson’s first fight in Strikeforce was a decision loss to UFC veteran Clay Guida for the vacant lightweight title, before going on an 8-0 run.

Thomson’s heyday in Strikeforce included two wins of the lightweight strap and one successful defense, before ultimately losing that title to Gilbert Melendez in December 2009. Going rather spotty in a 4-3 run over the last four years, his most recent fight was an amazing second-round TKO of Nate Diaz last April. He was set to fight Pettis for the UFC lightweight belt in December, but that fight got scrapped due to a Pettis knee injury.

Henderson just lost his belt for the second time to Pettis and Thomson just got bounced from his own title shot, so both men will be looking to make a big statement at UFC on Fox 10. They come from amazing camps, have a ton of experience and are very well-rounded fighters who have only been stopped a total of three times in 48 combined fights.

The Octagon returns to the United Center in Chicago for the third time on Saturday night as Henderson and Thomson vie for a shot at the coveted UFC lightweight title. Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Henderson 10, Thomson – 10

Both Henderson and Thomson are great strikers, but in different ways. The one commonality that exists is that neither has exhibited a ton of knockout power in the last five years. Thomson may have broken his drought with the TKO of Diaz last year, but even after a head kick and barrage of strikes, Diaz still stood up almost immediately after the ref called it. Although the knockout power may be lacking, they still bring very good striking games into this fight.

Henderson is a rangy striker with creative kicks, but his angles are fairly simple. He brings aggressiveness, length and accuracy as his primary weapons, and his black belt in taekwondo shines through in his extreme flexibility. His opponent’s attack, meanwhile, is a bit more kickboxing-oriented.

Thomson’s time at AKA definitely shows in his striking arsenal. He is a very good distance manager, and as the distance changes, he’s able to switch stances often, similar to Team Quest’s Tarec Saffiedine. Thomson is elusive, utilizing a lot of lateral movement, and he uses leg kicks to lower his opponent’s defense and set up head kicks, as he did twice against Diaz.

Both of these guys bring a lot to the table in the striking department, and with the lack of recent knockouts earned by either one, if this one stays standing, it could easily go to a draw, with Henderson landing slightly more significant strikes based on volume alone.

Wrestling: Henderson – 10, Thomson – 10

Similar to the striking game, Henderson and Thomson are matched up fairly closely in their wrestling games. But also as in striking, they are proficient in different ways.

Henderson was a two-time NAIA All-American who wrestled out of Dana College in Blair, Neb. In MMA, he shows so-so takedown accuracy, but very impressive takedown defense. His length and flexibility allows for an effective sprawl against leg takedowns and a dangerous attack in the clinch. With Henderson, it doesn’t always matter if he has underhooks against the cage, as his striking is accurate from any distance.

Thomson wrestled in high school and briefly in college, but his MMA-centric wrestling skills are extremely effective. He out-wrestled Diaz with ease, and, like Henderson, he is very slippery. Unlike Henderson, he is much better at getting the underhooks, which allows for dominant control in the clinch. On the mat, Thomson utilizes his hips to control his opponents and hold them in range for his ground-and-pound attack.

As in the striking game, the wrestling department is a closely matched aspect of this match-up that may be a moot point at the end of the day.

Submission Grappling: Henderson – 10, Thomson – 10

Submission grappling could definitely be the swing vote in this fight, if taking skills out of consideration, because Henderson would win on flexibility alone. Some people might suggest that the former UFC champ would be at a disadvantage on the ground based on his last outing against Pettis, but that fight was an anomaly.

WEC fans have watched Henderson with his shoulder twisted 180 degrees in the wrong direction during kimura attempts and fending off chokes applied so deeply that the viewer almost passed out just from watching, but his loss to Pettis was his only tapout loss ever. His only other submission loss was a technical sub in 2007. His Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt arsenal has earned him eight submission wins, with three coming over notable opponents Donald Cerrone, Jamie Varner and Anthony Njokuani. All of the stats and intangibles in Henderson’s submission game sound amazing, until looking at Thomson’s record.

Thomson also has a black belt, but his is in Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu, a style of fighting created by Dave Camarillo. In his MMA career, Thomson has earned nine submissions, most notable of which was his last one, a late-third-round rear-naked choke of submission artist Pat Healy in 2010. The AKA vet has never been submitted and has applied a much broader range of submission attacks throughout his career than Henderson has.

Neither fighter is deficient on the ground, and, as has become the theme throughout this analysis, the submission game is a toss-up.

X-factor

Hunger is the x-factor in this fight, and with a pretty even match-up, the hungrier man should win this battle. Henderson goes to decision a lot, and Thomson, even though he knocked out Diaz in April, has also gone to decision against most of the top fighters he has faced. Knowing that a title shot is on the line, it really comes down to who wants it more. If one guy decides to throw caution to the wind and goes for the finish, this could easily be a “Fight of the Year” candidate.

Total: Henderson – 30, Thomson – 30

Verdict: No writer worth his salt is ever going to be 100 percent right in predicting the outcomes of fights. It takes a brave soul to look at the past performances of fighters, weight the skills and techniques, and tell anyone who will listen what should happen in a fight. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong, but most will at least pick a winner. This will not be one of those cases.

The battle for “next in line” in the UFC lightweight division is a toss-up. On one hand, Henderson has been in way more big fights than Thomson has, but he has also been unable to stop anyone in a really long time. Two of his recent title wins were by controversial split decisions, meaning he could have just as easily lost. Thomson has finished much more often, and his one split decision was a controversial loss to Melendez in a bid to regain the Strikeforce title before the organization dismantled.

On Saturday night, Henderson and Thomson will face off on UFC on Fox 10. The only real prediction that can be made is that the fighter that comes into the cage hungry and salivating for victory will be the one that prevails after a five-round war.

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator