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Monday, August 13, 2012
Dominate Diaz, and Bendo becomes 'legit'

By Franklin McNeil

The outcome of Saturday night’s UFC lightweight title was acceptable to Benson Henderson; his performance was not.

Henderson retained his 155-pound strap when two judges gave him the slimmest of wins over Frankie Edgar in the UFC 150 main event. The final judges’ tally was 48-47, 48-47 for Henderson, and 49-46 for Edgar.

Fortunately for Henderson only those two judges’ opinions matter. An overwhelming majority of the 15,008 at Pepsi Center in Denver saw the bout differently. An ear-popping chorus of boos rained down on the Octagon when it was announced that Henderson had retained his belt.

Twitter and Facebook were also abuzz with observers expressing disappointment in the decision. There's validity to the majority's response.

During the five-round affair, Henderson landed the harder strikes but Edgar passed the fight’s eye test. It was Edgar who dictated where the action would take place, and it was Edgar who took the fight to the ground on occasion and landed counter-strikes during the standup action.

Aside from the opening round, when Edgar got caught in a guillotine with seconds remaining before the horn sounded, Henderson was the fighter most often seeking to escape choke attempts. Edgar was often the guy pressing the action. Henderson himself admitted after the fight that he should have forced the action more.

“The biggest thing I was disappointed in myself with is that I didn’t push the pace enough,” Henderson said after improving to 17-2. “I didn’t do a good enough job of capitalizing and getting on top of him when he was off balance.

“My coaches were yelling at me to push the pace, but I was lethargic and didn’t push it as much as I should have.”

The likely reason Henderson didn’t push the pace was that Edgar’s style frustrated him. The former lightweight titleholder is very elusive defensively, moves constantly and possesses quick hands and feet. More important, Edgar is a skilled counter-striker. Nearly every time Henderson delivered a kick, Edgar caught it and threw punches in response. Whenever Henderson came forward to throw punches, Edgar ducked under them and delivered his own to the body.

Henderson ate a lot of strikes Saturday night but landed the more telling blows; that’s what most likely impressed two of the three judges -- the champ getting dropped by a right hand in the second round notwithstanding.

It’s been more than 48 hours since Henderson narrowly escaped Denver with his belt. But questions remain about the validity of his reign. Henderson is the UFC lightweight champion but some would say only by default -- he's really the recipient of poor judging.

But Henderson can silence every one of his critics the next time he steps in the Octagon.

Henderson is slated to tackle No. 1 contender Nate Diaz later this year. And eking out another disputed decision will serve to increase the amount of criticism observers will heap on him -- and the judges if they have a say in the fight's outcome.

What Henderson must do, then, is win convincingly. Beat Diaz into the canvas, and Henderson will be recognized as UFC's true lightweight champion in the eyes of many.