Benson Henderson slipped by Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7. | Ezra Shaw/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Benson Henderson survived the sternest of tests by the narrowest of margins.
Low kicks, standing elbows and the ability to hold his own in wild standup exchanges carried Henderson to a split decision over Gilbert Melendez, as he retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown in a thrilling UFC on Fox 7 headliner on Saturday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. All three cageside judges scored it 48-47: Derek Cleary and Michael Bell for Henderson, Wade Vierra for Melendez.
Afterward, the victorious Henderson dropped to a knee, ring in hand, and proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes.
“There are a lot bigger things than fighting,” he said, “and I had to take care of one of those things right now and make sure she is in my life for the rest of my life.”
According to FightMetric figures, Henderson out-landed the challenger in terms of significant strikes in all five rounds and held the edge in total strikes in every round but the second. The 29-year-old MMA Lab representative did the majority of his damage with step-in standing elbows and kicks to the upper and lower sections of Melendez’s legs.
Beaten for just the third time as a professional, Melendez appeared to make his most significant inroads in the first and fifth rounds, where he pressured the champion with thudding right hands and the occasional knee to the body. The loss halted the Santa Ana, Calif., native’s seven-fight winning streak.
“It was a tough fight,” said Henderson, who improved to a perfect 7-0 in the UFC. “I know how tough that Gilbert is. I love the Skrap Pack. They bring it every single time.”
Cormier Clinch Suffocates Mir
In the co-main event, American Kickboxing Academy export Daniel Cormier executed his game plan to perfection, as he trapped former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in a relentless series of energy-sapping clinches en route to a one-sided unanimous decision.
All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for Cormier (12-0, 1-0 UFC), who is believed to be contemplating a move to the 205-pound division.
Mir (16-7, 14-7 UFC) could not avoid the clinch against the two-time Olympian. Cormier pinned him along the fence over and over again, scoring with knees to the body and elbows and punches to the head. Mir delivered a handful of kicks to the body but failed to control distance and wandered aimlessly into close quarters. The 33-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time in his professional career.
Thomson Head Kick, Punches Dispatch Diaz
Former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson became the first man to ever finish Nate Diaz with strikes, as he stopped “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner with an exquisite head kick and follow-up punches in a featured lightweight clash. Thomson (20-5, 3-1 UFC) brought it to a close 3:44 into round two, as he returned to the Octagon for the first time since August 2004.
Diaz (16-9, 11-7 UFC) spent a majority of the bout pursuing his nimble foe. Thomson leaned on leg kicks, picked his spots with punches and secured a well-time takedown in the first round. The damage exacted from the kicks was visible on Diaz’s left knee, which was grotesquely swollen. Thomson also connected on a head kick, and though only his foot landed, it served as a precursor for what was in store for Diaz.
Thomson added standing elbows from the clinch in the second round, opening multiple cuts on Diaz’s face.
With roughly 90 seconds to go in the frame, he fired another head kick, and this time, shin met skull. Diaz staggered and back pedaled, with Thomson closing in. A series of unanswered punches forced referee Mike Beltran to step in.
Brown Brutalizes, Stops Mein
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 quarterfinalist Matt Brown ravaged Canadian prospect Jordan Mein, as he delivered a stirring second-round technical knockout in a welterweight showcase. Brown (17-11, 10-5 UFC) sealed the deal 60 seconds into round two, extending his career-best winning streak to five fights.
Mein (27-9, 1-1 UFC) was in retreat mode from the start, as the rugged Ohioan stayed in his face with punches, knees, elbows and kicks, giving him little room to breathe much less work. Still, he had his chance. Mein folded Brown with a brutal left hook to the body in the first round and swarmed to finish. Brown defended well, locked up a tight triangle choke and returned to his feet. Perhaps weakened by the choke, Mein was never the same.
Brown came out firing in round two, bloodying Mein’s nose with a series of punches, standing elbows and knees. The 32-year-old Xenia, Ohio, native grounded Mein with an attempted guillotine choke and then switched gears, finishing him with a deluge of elbows to the head, body and back.
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