The main event of UFC Fight Night 79 is a welterweight contest between former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson and Jorge “Gambred” Masvidal. Henderson returns to the Octagon after submitting Brandon Thatch in February, while Masvidal is coming off a knockout win over Cezar Ferreira in July. Both fighters moved up to the welterweight division in their most recent fights and are looking to make a run in the welterweight division. Benson Henderson (22-5 MMA, 10-3 UFC, -260 favorite) The former king of the UFC’s lightweight division currently finds himself in an interesting situation. He lost his title to Anthony Pettis in 2013 and was finished by current champion Rafael dos Anjos in their fight last year. A combination of facing a long road back to the lightweight title and increasingly tougher weight cuts prompted Henderson to move up to the welterweight division, which he did earlier this year. Facing Brandon Thatch, a much bigger and more physically imposing fighter, Henderson used his speed and superior cardio and ground game to tire out and submit Thatch in the fourth round. “Smooth” was linked to a lightweight clash against #5 ranked Michael Johnson, but he was forced to withdraw from the contest due to an injury. Henderson was then rebooked to face Thiago Alves back at welterweight, but Alves was forced out with an injury and replaced by Jorge Masvidal. A win over Masvidal will move him up a notch in the welterweight division, though he has a ways to go before being considered a title contender. Henderson owns notable wins over Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson and Donald Cerrone. Henderson is one of the more well-rounded fighters in the UFC. He can do it all, but does not really excel in any one area. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, he is not much of a combination striker, but is nevertheless still effective on the feet. Henderson uses a nice jab and likes to leap in with right hands to the head and body. He does not usually throw more than one or two punches at a time. His real strength on the feet are his kicks, which he can credit to his Taekwondo background. The Arizona native throws hard kicks to the legs and body. They are often his best weapons on the feet and help him keep distance from his opponent. Front leg sidekicks are a new weapon of Henderson’s that simultaneously hurt his opponent, keep them at length, and stop them from attacking. While he does not have many knockouts on his resume, he hits decently hard, especially with his kicks. Crisp footwork, creative angles, and excellent conditioning are also hallmarks of his game. Henderson has often been at the center of criticism for doing just enough to win a decision and not go all out for the kill. His title reign was filled with controversial decisions that went his way every time. That does not take away from his level of talent, but it is something to be aware of. The 32-year old is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He regularly competes at jiu-jitsu tournaments around the world, though he has not done particularly well in them. However, for mixed martial arts, his jiu-jitsu and ground game are solid. Additionally, Henderson comes from a strong wrestling background and has a solid arsenal of takedowns at his disposal, though he often likes to keep his fights standing. When he does go to the ground he has shown a smothering top game, smooth passing, a knack for taking his opponent’s back, and a savvy submission game. Henderson is known for his wicked guillotine, which he has used to finish four fights in his career. While he was submitted by Anthony Pettis at UFC 164, Henderson’s submission defense has been very solid. Jorge Masvidal (29-9 MMA, 6-2 UFC, +220 underdog) With Alves dropping off the card due to injury, longtime veteran Masvidal finally gets his chance to headline a UFC card. Fighting at lightweight for most of his career, “Gamebred” has faced many of the best fighters in the world and has constantly held his own. Since coming to the UFC after the Strikeforce merger, he has compiled an impressive 6-2 record, which includes wins over James Krause, Michael Chiesa, Tim Means, and Cezar Ferreira. Further, Masvidal should really be 7-1 in the UFC, as he was on the wrong end of a very bad decision against Al Iaquinta in April. The split decision loss actually prompted him to move up to the welterweight division, as his run towards the lightweight title was just derailed and cutting to 155 pounds was getting much harder as he aged. Fighting out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, Masvidal is one of the more technical fighters on the UFC roster. Like Henderson, he can do everything and does not have any big holes in his game, especially from a technical perspective. However, he also does not stand out in any one discipline. On the feet Masvidal is a smooth boxer with exceptional footwork and a crisp jab. His jab is the center of his striking attack and he fires it going forward and on the counter. A powerful straight right, standing elbows, and a diverse kicking game are also staples of his striking game. In the clinch he uses exceptional dirty boxing and is adept at striking immediately after the break. Although Masvidal finished his last fight via knockout, he has not been known as much of a finisher during his career. Actually, he has been known to coast through many of his fights and fight down to his level of competition. For example, he was clearly a better fighter than Al Iaquinta but he was content to coast in the second and third rounds once he had built up a lead after a dominant opening round. Masvidal’s coaches believe his move to welterweight will give him more energy in the later rounds, which will allow him to throw more volume and work harder. The 31 year old is one of the more underrated wrestlers and grapplers in the promotion. Masvidal’s coaches at American Top Team have compared his wrestling to many of the top division one collegiate wrestlers that train at the gym. He can hit doubles or singles in open space and can also complete scoop doubles against the cage. From top position Masvidal is an effective passer and holds position well. Additionally, he also possesses a strong offensive and defensive submission game. Takedown defense is another area where Masvidal shines. He is adept at winning the underhook battle, stuffing shots in open space, and creating enough space to scramble back to his feet when he does get taken down. Overall, Masvidal is a complete fighter that can compete with the best fighters in two weight divisions. Thoughts This is an excellent fight in the welterweight division. I actually like this fight better than the original matchup of Henderson versus Thiago Alves. Both fighters are well-rounded and have no significant weaknesses in their game. Also, they are both hard to finish and tend to coast to decisions at times. For those reasons I believe this fight is headed to a decision. As far as the matchup goes, I favor Henderson to come out as the victor. He has more experience in high-level fights, can secure takedowns at key times, and will likely outwork Masvidal on the feet. I am not counting out Masvidal by any means, as he has the tools to win this fight. However, he has not shown that he can defeat fighters the caliber of Henderson and his striking output may not hold up for five rounds. I expect Masvidal to have his moments, but in the end it will be “Smooth” who gets his hand raised. The Prediction: Benson Henderson defeats Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision
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