Is Ben Henderson A True Welterweight Contender-Or Did He Just Derail Brandon Thatch’s Hype?

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Badly needing to shake off the cobwebs of a recent 2-3 slide in the Octagon, former lightweight champion Ben Henderson put forth what could definitely be the finest performance of the young year by defeating towering striker Brandon Thatch in the main event of last night’s (Sat., February 14, 2015) UFC Fight Night 60 from the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

Undersized and supposedly overmatched, Henderson weathered an early storm from the 6’2” Thatch, who had won an impressive 10 straight bouts via first round finish. ‘Rukus’ used his reach and striking power to out-land ‘Smooth’ in the opening rounds, but his lack of championship round experience undoubtedly caught up to him in the end.

Using the Jiu-jitsu black belt with strength and precision that we’ve rarely seen from him at 155 pounds, Henderson masterfully took Thatch to the ground and easily got his back, locking on a rear-naked choke to score the finish that Henderson has always seemed capable of.

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His somewhat tentative counterstriking tendencies of his recent losses at lightweight may have a lot to do with his drastic weight cuts, because Henderson indeed appeared to be more swift and powerful at 169 pounds.

While he couldn’t have hung with Thatch in a pure firefight, few martial artists could, so it was refreshing to see Henderson use the wrestling and grappling backgrounds that he recently abandoned for some reason.

The question became about just what Henderson should do for his next fight, and the possibilities are open and exciting for ‘Smooth.’ He called out for a fight versus Rory MacDonald after his win last night, but UFC president Dana White denied that possibility by stating “The Red King” already has a fight.

He could take on any one of the lethal welterweights populating the Top 10 of the division. ‘Smooth’ is a big name draw with built-in championship pedigree and experience, and those bouts would be potentially huge draws for UFC Fight Night or UFC on FOX card.

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But not to take away from his win last night, perhaps we should temper our expectations a bit. He beat a no doubt dangerous stand-up machine in Thatch, yet there were several factors against ‘Rukus’ in play last night.

He was coming off a 15-month layoff to a main event in his hometown after the original Matt Brown vs. Tarec Saffiedine main event bout fell apart; something that put a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders.

He’d also never been out of the first round since his only prior loss, a split decision to Jesse Magana under the Strikeforce banner in 2008 where his opponent largely used takedowns and top control to pick up a close win.

Not to atone for his mistakes, but it’s clear that Thatch still has a lot to learn. It was probably better that he get taken to deep water against a former champion like Henderson.

It’ll work wonders for his career overall.

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However, he’s just not the world-beater that many members of the media (including myself) built him up to be, as we did get ahead of ourselves by forecasting his perceived success against Henderson based on his wins over Justin Edwards and Paulo Thiago.

Thatch is an amazing athlete who was outsmarted by a much craftier veteran. Still, even though Henderson looked to be at the peak of his skills at UFC Fight Night 60, a match with any Top 5 welterweight might be a stretch for him right now.

That’s not to say he can’t be a contender at 170 pounds, because he could. Beating Thatch just isn’t the best overall barometer of that claim quite yet.

As one of the more active fighters in the UFC, Henderson should have plenty of chances to continue proving himself at welterweight, where I think he should stay for now. What do you think?

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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports