UFC Fight Night 49: Benson Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos Review
Benson Henderson went six-plus years without being finished. Now, he’s been both submitted and finished with strikes within a calendar year.
There was some outcry from both fans online and Henderson/his team that referee John McCarthy stepped in too soon. Henderson, after all, was “intelligently defending” himself when he crawled through McCarthy’s legs like a wide-eyed toddler chasing after a sparkling, squeaking toy.
In actuality, McCarthy made the prudent decision in preventing dos Anjos from delivering any more punishment. Dos Anjos closed Henderson’s eyes with a left hook, and Henderson’s body went limp until his ass crashed into the mat and he kinda-sorta-not-really came back to life.
Some people argue a hypothetical like “What if Josh Rosenthal had stopped Lesnar/Carwin?” or “What if Yves Lavigne stopped the second Edgar/Maynard fight?” Well, MMA history would look a lot different, sure, but could you find fault in either decision? Holding those fights as the standard for stopping a fight raises the bar to a dangerous level.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t such a thing as an early stoppage. A punch or kick or knee putting someone on the mat shouldn’t automatically lead to the referee side-shuffling his way into between the two fighters. But additional information – eyes darting into the back of the head, hands flying into the air like the whacky inflatable guys – can help make a questionable call a decisive one.
LIFTING A LOG OUT OF THE JAM
I noted in the preview for this event that the lightweight division is logjammed while we wait for Anthony Pettis to defend his title against Gilbert Melendez. Rafael dos Anjos alleviated that – a bit, anyway – by knocking out Benson Henderson.
By any standard, dos Anjos has earned himself a shot. He’s 7-1 since 2012 with wins over Evan Dunham, Donald Cerrone, and now Henderson. It’s an impressive run, and seems improbable after going 4-4 to start his UFC career.
Unfortunately, that “1” in 7-1 came against Khabib Nurmagomedov in April. Nurmagomedov doesn’t have as impressive a list of names as dos Anjos (respectable nonetheless with Pat Healty, Thiago Tavares, and Gleison Tibau), but he does have an undefeated record in 22 pro MMA fights.
Neither guy has huge drawing power, however, and the UFC especially wants to keep a guy like Nurmagomedov away from Anthony Pettis until the timing is right. Should Pettis defeat Melendez (which is not a forgeone conclusion), I expect the winner of next month’s Donald Cerrone vs. Eddie Alvarez fight to get the next crack.
In Cerrone, they have a longtime UFC mainstay who has on Fox and Fight Nights numerous times. He’s the kind of guy you think of when you think of a fighter, and his run of four straight finishes has come against a who’s who of lightweights (Adriano Martins being the exception). Yes, he lost to dos Anjos just last year, but he’s the higher profile fighter in the higher profile fight.
Should Alvarez win (and as a sidenote, he’s the slight betting favorite which seems off to me), the UFC will (and probably should) want to cash in. Alvarez has as good a three-fight run as you can have outside the UFC these days with wins over Shinya Aoki, Patricky Freire, and Michael Chandler. More importantly, though, he has the artificial momentum of coming into the UFC as the rare big-ticket free agent signing. The UFC will want to extract value if they signed Alvarez to anything close to what they initially offered him over a year ago, and they’re not going to do that by slowly building him into a contender.
OH NO PLATA
Ben Saunders returned to the UFC after four years and a lengthy rant against former Bellator main man Bjorn Rebney. He made that return in style, submitting Chris Heatherly with an omoplata. That may sound unusual, and it is; Saunders’ omoplata was the first to finish a fight in UFC history.
The omoplata is difficult to finish because so many things have to go right leading up to it. First, you have to get into the omoplata position, which can be incredibly difficult when someone is throwing punches at you. From there, you have to control the opponent’s body while using your hips to torque your opponent’s shoulder. This is made even more difficult without a gi where sweat and bloody come into play to make both fighters slippery. Saunders finished the submission because he pulled Heatherly’s near hip to the mat, which allowed him to increase the leverage on the shoulder and turn “Chris Heatherly” into a trivia answer.
Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.