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CHICAGO -- Josh Thomson would have fought for the UFC lightweight title in 2013, were it not for a knee injury suffered by current champ Anthony Pettis. A controversial decision in Chicago might prevent him from fighting for it in 2014.
Thomson (20-6) surrendered his place in the lightweight division on Saturday in a split decision, five-round loss to former champion Benson Henderson at United Center.
Judges Sal D'Amato and Brian Puccillo scored it 49-46 and 48-47 respectively for Henderson, while Gabriel Sabaitis saw it 48-47 for Thomson. ESPN scored the bout 48-47 Thomson.
"Another close win, but I'll take them any way I can get them," Henderson said. "I thought it was a pretty controlling fight for myself. I made a few mistakes, but I don't think he did any damage and I didn't lose control.
"I made some mistakes and ended on my back a few times, but I thought the 'W' was clear."
Adding injury to insult, Thomson was heard on the broadcast telling his corner he thought his right hand was broken after the second round. As the final scores were read, Thomson shook his head in disbelief before exiting quickly.
Henderson (20-3) relied on pressure throughout, walking Thomson down and opening up offensively in later rounds. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt struggled during grappling exchanges, however, conceding his back several times.
Within the first minute of the fight Thomson had taken Henderson's back and secured a body triangle after ducking under a right hand. He worked patiently for the rear-naked choke, before Henderson eventually stood and shrugged him off.
A similar battle played out in the second round, as Thomson once again locked in the body triangle off a scramble. Henderson escaped quicker the second time and responded with elbows, but it appeared to be Thomson's round.
Thomson's hand injury was evident in the third, as Henderson started to land with body kicks and win out important position battles. He scored points late in the round with elbows from side control.
Thomson, however, would respond in the fourth. Just when it appeared momentum was clearly in Henderson's corner, Thomson scored two key takedowns and again took his opponent's back.
The fifth was less conclusive, as Thomson took his foot off the gas but still limited Henderson's offense. He absorbed several more body kicks and elbows along the fence, but responded with a flurry of his own to push Henderson back.
Afterward, Thomson said he felt satisfied with his performance.
"The plan was simple: win," Thomson. "I could not, but that doesn't mean I failed. It is what it is.
"We know that's the risk when you leave to the judges' decision. But, I'm satisfied with my performance. It was a great fight. The fans know it. They will remember this night for a long time."
Henderson has a knack for pulling out close decisions. He defended the 155-pound belt three times from 2012 to 2013, twice via split decision. The win improves his UFC record to 8-1.
Thomson, who fights out of San Jose, Calif., falls to 3-2 overall in the UFC.
Gabriel Gonzaga looked great -- until he broke his hand.
Stock in Stipe Miocic continues to rise as the heavyweight recorded his fifth win in the UFC -- a unanimous decision over a fading, injured Gonzaga.
After looking outstanding in the first round, Gonzaga (16-8) visibly hit the wall in the second. The 34-year-old veteran started breathing heavily from an open mouth and failed to rally any kind of response as Miocic (11-1) ran away on the scorecards. Afterward, Gonzaga revealed he had broken his hand.
"I broke my right hand in the first round," Gonzaga said. "That changed everything. Even though he was faster than me, I couldn't fight well because of the pain I felt in my right hand."
It marked the first time Gonzaga (16-8) fought past the second round since he picked up a third-round submission in a non-UFC bout in October 2011.
Things didn't turn out as well for the Brazilian this time, as Miocic picked up on the fading gas tank and started picking him apart with the jab.
Gonzaga tried to steal momentum back with takedowns, but was unable to get much behind his shot.
It was a disappointing turn of events after a solid first round effort by Gonzaga. He tagged Miocic twice with overhand rights and once with a left head kick. He seemed one step ahead during the exchanges, working counters and controlling range.
The grappling exchanges appeared to take their toll on Gonzaga, however, as he was never really the same following a scramble late in the first round.
All three judges ultimately scored it for Miocic, by scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
The win figures to improve Miocic's rank in the division, as he improves to 5-1 in the Octagon. He dominated a Top 10 opponent in his previous fight, defeating Roy Nelson via unanimous decision in June.
Few martial artists can finish a fight like Donald Cerrone.
The UFC lightweight recorded the 17th finish of his career in spectacular fashion, knocking out Adriano Martins in the first-round via head kick. Referee John McCarthy called an immediate stop when the strike landed, 4:40 into the round. Martins (25-7) fought well until the kick ruined his night. He countered several of Cerrone's leg kicks with straight punches and scrambled to his feet following a surprise takedown midway through the round.
|One well-timed head kick by Donald Cerrone spelled the end of Adriano Martins' night.|
Cerrone (22-6), however, had a plan with those leg kicks. Despite the effective counters by Martins, the former WEC standout continued to throw low, which appeared to coax Martins into dropping his hands during the final head kick.
The blow landed on Martins' neck, near the jawline -- the lights on Martins went out. He fell awkwardly to his back, where McCarthy quickly saved him from more punishment.
"You got to see the old 'Cowboy' with a little bit of the new," Cerrone said. "My goal is to be a champion. A lot of fighters say they can't get fights. I'll fight anyone, anytime."
Cerrone continues to finish fights at 155 pounds, although a signature win against a ranked opponent has eluded him. He's posted a 9-3 record since joining the UFC in 2011, but all three losses have considerably hurt his title aspirations.
Martins drops to 1-1 in the UFC. He recorded a second-round submission win over Daron Cruickshank in his debut in November.
It might be appropriate to start labeling Jeremy Stephens a force at featherweight.
Stephens (23-9) continues to impress at 145 pounds, defeating Darren Elkins via unanimous decision. Final scores read 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
The former lightweight is now 3-0 in his new weight class.
Elkins (17-4) refused to quit in the mostly one-sided affair -- and even appeared to hurt Stephens late in the third during an exchange along the fence. His inability to drag Stephens to the floor proved to be critical however, especially early.
Stephens repeatedly defended the former collegiate wrestler's takedown attempts, and frequently made him pay for the effort. He caught Elkins with a wicked kick to the body in the first and staggered him with a left hook in the second.
Credit Elkins in the final round, as he went for broke knowing he was down 2-0 on the scorecards. The takedown continued to be hard to come by, as he failed to bring Stephens down even after catching a leg kick and getting high on a single leg, but the constant pressure eventually paid off when he stunned Stephens late.
It wasn't enough to turn the tide, however, as Stephens survived one final guillotine attempt en route to the decision win. Elkins has now lost two of three. He had won five in a row prior to the skid.
Afterward, Stephens expressed his desire for a quick return.
"I keep in good shape and want to get back into the Octagon soon," Stephens said. "I feel stronger than these guys at 145 pounds. I feel a lot of power and I feel a lot of speed."
A failed attempt at an outside trip might have cost Sergio Pettis his perfect record.
Alex Caceres (10-5-1) handed Pettis (10-1) his first professional loss in a thrilling, third-round submission win. The finish, via rear-naked choke, came with just 21 seconds remaining in the bantamweight fight.
A major turning point late occurred late in the final round, when Caceres reversed a trip attempt and took Pettis to the floor. Pettis attacked Caceres' leg with a heel hook from his back, but ended up turtled up in the center of the cage.
Caceres took advantage of the opportunity, quickly taking Pettis' back and securing the choke. It marks the fifth time Caceres has finished a fight via submission.
"Once I escaped that heel hook and took his back, I slipped my hand under his throat and knew I had him good, and was able to submit him," Caceres said.
Pettis, the younger brother of UFC lightweight champion Anthony, showed poise in just his second Octagon appearance. He dictated action early and responded well after getting knocked down by a left hand in the second round.
The fight provided plenty of action, as the tight, technical style of Pettis matched up well with the more free-flowing, risk-taking style of Caceres. Each had his moments.
Caceres extends his unbeaten streak to five and hasn't lost since dropping a split decision to Edwin Figueroa in February 2012.
He is 4-0 since that fight, with one no-contest following a positive test for marijuana in March.
It took Eddie Wineland longer than usual to find his range against Yves Jabouin -- but it didn't take him long to finish the fight once he did.
Wineland (21-9-1) proved he's still a threat in the bantamweight division with a TKO finish over Jabouin in the second round. The finish came at the 4:16 mark of the round, thanks largely to a hard counter right in the pocket by Wineland.
"I'm ecstatic," Wineland said. "I've always said I could fight on the ground and never got to really show it. This time I got to show it. I knew if I put my hand on him, he would go to the ground and he did and I was able to finish him."
In his first appearance since losing to Renan Barao in an interim title bid in September, Wineland came out somewhat flat.
He struggled to figure out Jabouin's rhythm in the first, eating short front kicks to the chest and a couple to the head.
It was an entirely different story in the second round, as Wineland opened with a nice left hand on the back end of a two-punch combination, then sent Jabouin crashing to the fence with a flurry moments later.
With half the round remaining, Wineland dropped Jabouin with the counter right hand up the middle.
Jabouin tried to recover from halfguard, but Wineland passed and moved to the back where he eventually finished the fight.
Wineland improves to 3-3 since joining the UFC roster in 2011. Jabouin loses for the second time in his last three fights.