It was not an easy path to the UFC Lightweight title for Benson Henderson (17-2), who first rose to fame in the Zuffa owned World Extreme Cagefighting. At the time considered something of a minor league, the WEC boasted some of the best lightweight prospects in the sport and in 2010 Henderson became the champion of that promotion. Then he lost that title to Anthony Pettis at the last WEC event before it was merged with the UFC, due in large part to the famous showtime kick. Since then Henderson is 5-0 in the UFC with two hotly contested wins over Frankie Edgar to become the Lightweight champion.
Nate Diaz (16-7) is also a product of a UFC farm system, the Ultimate Fighter. While the show has fallen on hard times recently, at one point it was a premier destination for rising young talent in the sport. The younger brother of MMA star Nick Diaz, Nate actually fought for a WEC Lightweight title before winning the fifth season of the Ultimate Fighter. Since then Nate has a successful UFC career, but has struggled against stronger, more physical wrestlers.
The match is an intriguing one, as both fighters have excellent and well rounded skills. Henderson, the champion, started his martial arts career in the striking art of Teakwondo, giving him strong kicks, but he is also an experienced wrestler. Training with B.J. Penn, Henderson has also added Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to his arsenal. Henderson is extremely difficult to submit and is an excellent positional grappler.
Diaz also has an excellent mix of skills, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Cesar Gracie Diaz is a threat to submit anyone on the ground. On the feet Diaz has excellent boxing, using his reach extremely well with hard, straight punches. This promises to be a close fight, on the feet Diaz will likely have an edge, but his confidence his ability to submit may allow Henderson to get easy take downs and them win this fight with strong top position and ground-and-pound, and win by decision.
Right before this title match is a clash of top contenders in the Light Heavyweight
division. Mauricio Rua
(21-6) was the 205-pound king in 2005 when he was fighting in Pride FC. Known as "Shogun", Rua was a prodigal athletic talent who won fights in dynamic and exciting fashion. Now 31-years-old and a former UFC and Pride champion, Rua has had a UFC career of ups and downs, and he is now playing the role of a veteran taking on a young up-and-comer.
Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson
(14-1) is part of a new swell of fighters from the Nordic nation. Just 25-years-old, Gustafsson is a talented and gifted fighter. Very tall and lanky, he has excellent striking and natural power earning him the nickname "The Mauler". Gustafsson's offense comes primarily from his punching and it will be interested to see how it matches up against Rua's Muay Thai kickboxing style.
Controlling where the fight takes place will be key for both, Gustafsson wants to keep this fight at range were his superior reach and speed will give him a serious edge. Rua wants to get on the inside and punish Gustafsson with a variety of strikes and then try to get the Swedish fighter down to the ground. While not a strong wrestler, Rua does have several trip take downs that have proved very effective. While The Mauler's game on the ground is questionable, Rua's body has a great deal of wear and tear, and tends to slow down in fighters. Expect a great fight for about a round and half, and then for Gustafsson to come on strong to claim victory.
A similar type of fight is also on this card. A young, very talented welterweight Rory MacDonald
(13-1) fights against UFC legend B.J. Penn (16-8-2). A physical beast, MacDonald began training and fighting while a teenager and has been tagged a perennial title contender to come. The Canadian youngster has great physical strength and well rounded skills.
While MacDonald is a great talent, there may never be a faster rise in combat sports than that of B.J. Penn. Called "The Prodigy", Penn's first martial was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, where he earned a black belt in 3 years, a full decade faster than the average student, and then won the BJJ World Championship mere months later, the first American to do so. In 2001 he moved to MMA and in just three years he won his first UFC title, at Welterweight
. Like MacDonald, Penn was a freak athlete as a youth, but it wasn't strength that came naturally for the Hawaiian. Balance, flexibility and effortless execution of complex skills are the calling card of a B.J. Penn on top of his game.
But Penn's career has not been one of uninterrupted dominance, and his stumbles have not come from his anyone, anywhere, at any weight attitude towards fighting. No it has been mental, as Penn finds it hard to be motivated for fights. But after a short retirement, Penn has returned with a fresh perspective and revived loved of fighting.
The Fox card will open with an action fight between two tough Welterweights in Matt Brown
(15-11) and Mike Swick
(15-4). The rest of the card will take place on FX and Facebook and feature a few notable fighters including prospect Mike Easton
(13-1), American Top Team fighter Yves Edwards
(41-18-1), and European kickboxer Dennis Siver (20-8).
Fox 8pm ET
Ben Henderson vs. Nate Diaz [LW title]
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Mauricio Rua
Rory MacDonald vs. B.J. Penn
Matt Brown vs. Mike Swick
FX 5pm ET
Michael Chiesa vs. Marcus LeVesseur
Raphael Assuncao vs. Mike Easton
Nam Phan vs. Dennis Siver
Ramsey Nijem vs. Joe Proctor
Yves Edwards vs.Jeremy Stephens
Tim Means vs. Abel Trujillo
Daron Cruickshank vs. Henry Martinez
Facebook 4:20 ET
John Albert vs. Scott Jorgensen