One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Josh Thomson, who squares off with Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 10 in Chicago on Jan. 25.

In spite of the recent spate of criticism of the depth of UFC cards, this one seems to hold enough interest to ward off any such discussion. Before the lights go down and the main event begins, we get to see several prominent UFC fighters that have either competed for a title or are in the general discussion when it comes to a title shot. This name recognition is exemplified by Eddie Wineland, looking to bounce back from his losing title effort against Renan Barao this past September.

Additionally, we thought we might get two Pettises on the card, but ultimately the elder brother and champion, Anthony, was unable to take his place in the main event against Thomson. However, we still get to see younger brother Sergio continue his attempt to emulate Anthony. He will be looking to go 2-0 inside the Octagon against Alex Caceres.

In main-card action, Donald Cerrone may well be looking to make a statement in light of Cole Miller’s ill-advised call-out when he goes up against relative unknown Brazilian Adriano Martins. However, the fight that holds the most potential of any on the card may well be the co-main event, featuring a heavyweight match-up between Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga. Both men will be looking to place themselves towards the top five for when the champion, Cain Velasquez, returns in late 2014.

In the main event itself, we will see two fighters entering the cage with points to prove, but from somewhat polarizing positions all the same. Benson Henderson is looking to show that he is still at the very top when it comes to the 155-pound division following his loss to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164. Meanwhile, Thomson will look to cement his status as next in line upon Anthony Pettis’ return. There can be no opponent better suited to showcase Thomson’s suitability for this position than former champion Henderson.

The Breakdown

Henderson is pretty much the epitome of a complete mixed martial artist, with his striking ability being well tested and his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills still at a high level, despite his armbar loss to Pettis.

Thomson has certainly been around the houses in his MMA career, fighting for the UFC and Pride in his early days before settling into his career under the Strikeforce banner and now finding himself back in the UFC and in the hunt for the elusive lightweight crown.

During his time in Strikeforce, Thomson fought against many fighters who still remain in the upper echelons of the sport today, including Gilbert Melendez (twice), Clay Guida, Pat Healy and K.J. Noons. Thomson now looks to maintain the title contender status he achieved through defeating Nate Diaz back in April of last year. He will definitely have justified his position if he can get by Henderson.

The Strategy

Henderson has shown a diverse range of attacks to the legs of his opponents in recent fights, whether it be side kicks to the knee, leg kicks or even punches to the calf, as we saw him land on multiple occasions against Diaz and Melendez. These kicks are a valuable weapon for Henderson, and the kicks to the calf in particular have become his signature, as they can quickly debilitate his opponent and allow Henderson to dictate the fight from there.

Additionally, these leg kicks do not just come when on the feet standing in front of his opponent. He loves to throw a leg kick at the end of a scramble, too. Just as his opponent is getting back to his feet and establishing his balance, Henderson will launch a head kick at his opponent in the hope that his adversary’s hands will have dropped momentarily.

Thomson will need to pay close attention to Henderson’s fight with Melendez. Throughout the frenetic 25 minutes of action, Melendez negated the explosiveness of Henderson by being patient and keeping a distance with which he felt comfortable. One area of success throughout the fight for Melendez was in catching Henderson as he was moving forward. He would seemingly notice Henderson’s left hand dropping ever so slightly, then punish this with either a straight right or a looping right over the top towards the ear of Henderson.

Thomson must remain vigilant at all times against Henderson, and the front kick we have seen him use time and again will serve him well to keep Henderson at a distance. If Thomson goes for a takedown against the former UFC champ, he will not be able to rely upon the same smothering style he utilized against Noons, whereby he maintained position for long periods without very much activity. Despite being submitted in his last outing, Henderson remains a BJJ black belt and will be much more equipped than Noons to reverse position or tie Thomson up to force a stand up from the referee.

The odds are against Thomson, and justifiably so, given Henderson’s winning streak prior to losing to Pettis. If the odds are to be upset, then Thomson needs to dictate the pace and distance at which the fight is contested, not allowing Henderson to pressure him, destroy his base with leg attacks and then lean on him against the cage. If he cannot stop Henderson from doing as much, then it would be a recipe for disaster and one which ultimately sees Thomson’s status as next in line for the title extremely short-lived.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.