The Fight Horizon – Josh Thomson vs. Benson Henderson

The Fight Horizon

In today’s Mixed Martial Arts, new fights are announced so often it’s difficult to keep track of all of them, let alone understand how they came about and what the implications are. So twice a week here at The Fight Horizon on Inside Fights, writer Daniel Sohn takes a quick, but in-depth look at newly announced match-ups to mark on your calendar.

The Matchup:

Josh Thomson (20-5 overall, 1-0 in the UFC, recent stint)

Strengths: All-around striking, quickness

Weaknesses: Grappling

Benson Henderson (19-3 overall, 7-1 in the UFC)

Strengths: Extremely well-rounded,

Weaknesses: Doesn’t finish fights or always win decisively

The Date: January 14, 2013 at UFC on FOX 10

Weight Class: Lightweight

What led to it: Anthony Pettis is out of his first title defense against Josh Thomson with a knee injury that requires surgery, so Thomson gets the #1 ranked guy in the division and former champion Benson Henderson.

Why it matters: Thomson got the nod for Pettis’ first title defense with Gil Melendez tied up with Diego Sanchez (what an epic fight that was) and TJ Grant going back and forth between being fight ready and injured. The way Henderson lost didn’t earn him an immediate rematch, so Thomson was set to go, until Pettis injured his knee.

With those circumstances, you’d have to think this is a straight up title eliminator. We’re almost three months out from the fight and throw in another training camp afterward and the winner of this one and champ Pettis should both be ready by then. So the winner of this one welcomes Pettis back from injury and fights for the Lightweight title. For Thomson, this is just another big hurdle he has to clear to get a crack at ultimate glory. It makes a title shot far from guaranteed now, but it’s still a winnable fight for him.

Benson Henderson is still clearly elite and isn’t far from a rematch for the title. Getting through Thomson would put him right back in the Octagon opposite Pettis. Pettis seems to have his number though, and the way he lost in the second fight was both stunning and decisive. But you also get the feeling that he drastically underestimated Pettis in that situation and got caught up in the moment. Clay Guida put Pettis on his back for three rounds and managed to avoid getting subbed from the bottom. Henderson got caught in one.

Henderson constantly talked about breaking Anderson Silva’s title defense streak and knowing when it could happen, and that’s not the kind of talk you want from a guy who had yet to clean out his division. Henderson wasn’t even winning in dominant fashion the way Silva had done up until Weidman. He barely won his fights against Frankie Edgar and Gil Melendez. Beating Pettis would be ultimate redemption. Henderson needs it and he needs it bad, it’s a demon that’s going to haunt him for the rest of his career. Hell, it already was after their WEC fight, and losing to him again in that fashion makes it worse. Henderson has the tools to beat Pettis, but first he has to earn a shot at him and that means doing whatever it takes to beat Josh Thomson in impressive fashion.

Gilbert Melendez is the question mark here, how does he fit in to all of this? Taking that fight with Sanchez produced one of the most epic and memorable fights of our time, but it left him hanging out to dry in terms of the title picture and a potential opponent now. The winner of Maynard vs. Diaz is a possibility and so is Donald Cerrone, but both of those guys are ranked lower than him already. TJ Grant would make the most sense, if and when he ever comes back from his assortment of injuries. Melendez is right up there with Thomson, Grant and Henderson and with injuries so frequent in today’s MMA, anything is possible. But if all of the guys come out healthy, then Melendez may be on the back burner for a while.

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