CHICAGO, January 25 – It wasn’t a popular decision with the fans at the United Center, but in the UFC on FOX main event Saturday, Benson Henderson was able to get back in the win column in his first fight since losing his UFC lightweight title to Anthony Pettis last August, scoring a razor-thin five round split decision victory over Josh Thomson.
Scores were 49-46, 48-47, and 47-48 for Henderson, a verdict booed loudly by those in the arena and one that didn’t sit well with Thomson, who may have fought from the second round on with a broken hand.
Henderson came out aggressively, but that aggression worked against him, as Thomson grabbed hold of him and slammed him to the mat. Taking Henderson’s back, Thomson patiently searched for a submission, using all of his veteran tricks to find an opening for the finisher. Midway through the round, Henderson rose to his feet, but Thomson remained perched on his back, refusing to give up position. With under two minutes left, Henderson was able to fight free, but the two proceeded to remain locked up against the fence until “Smooth” got a brief takedown of his own. As the fighters rose, Henderson almost secured a standing arm triangle, but Thomson got loose and ended the round with another takedown.
The Octagon fence was the preferred place of business for the two combatants for much of the first two minutes of the second frame before referee John McCarthy restarted the action. Henderson subsequently tried to get his striking game going, but it was Thomson responding with a takedown. After a brief spell on the mat, Henderson got back to his feet and began leading the standup game again. Thomson would largely smother these attacks until he fired off his own flurries in the final minute.
Between rounds, Thomson told his corner that he thought he broke his right hand, and Henderson opened the third strong with a Superman punch followed by a takedown. Remaining locked up, the two rose but then separated quickly. As the round went on, Thomson attempted a couple takedowns but was unable to finish, likely due to his injury.
Thomson was able to get Henderson back to the mat in the first minute of round four, but after the Arizonan broke free, he followed up with a thudding takedown of his own. Thomson got up quickly, Henderson continuing to hold on as they grappled against the fence. After breaking apart, Thomson switched stances to throw Henderson off, and seconds later he secured a takedown and took his opponent’s back. Henderson calmly rose with “The Punk” on his back, fixing his hair in the process. Thomson responded by waving for the crowd to get into things, and they responded loudly as the Californian tried to sink in a rear naked choke before the bell.
Henderson scored with a good body punch and a solid knee to the midsection in the opening 60 seconds of the final stanza, with Thomson’s response a sweeping right hand to the head and a trip of “Smooth.” After catching a kick in the final two minutes, Thomson pushed Henderson to the mat and locked up with him, remaining in place even as Henderson stood. The two continued to grapple into the last minute, with neither fighter able to get off a significant blow after separating for the closing stages of the bout.
With the win, Henderson improves to 20-3; Thomson falls to 20-6 with 1 NC.
> Watch: Thomson's Post-Fight Interview
In the co-main event, rising heavyweight star Stipe Miocic notched his second straight victory over a veteran contender, following up last year’s win against Roy Nelson with a three round unanimous decision victory over Gabriel Gonzaga.
Scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28.
After the two traded leg kicks to open the bout, Gonzaga nailed Miocic with a flush right hand but the Ohio native didn’t flinch, instead proceeding to fire off stiff jabs at the Brazilian, who continued to tag his foe with kicks downstairs and punches upstairs, with a thudding kick to the head drawing and oooh from the crowd. Miocic took everything well though, making sure to get his shots in as well. With 50 seconds left, Gonzaga got a takedown, but Miocic jumped right back up, not wanting to stay on the mat with the jiu-jitsu black belt.
Gonzaga looked for the takedown early in round two, but Miocic turned him away effectively. And on the feet, Miocic appeared to be taking control against a weary Gonzaga, whose work rate dropped as the American steadily moved forward behind an effective array of punches. Even Gonzaga’s takedown attempts were continuing to come up empty, growing Miocic’s confidence each time.
The crowd got a bit restless with the increasingly one-sided nature of the fight in the third round, prompting Miocic to score a takedown and let loose with some ground strikes. Gonzaga got back to his feet in a scramble, but Miocic sent him right back down, upping his attack with each passing second. Gonzaga gamely fired back, but he wasn’t able to land the equalizer before the final bell.
With the win, Miocic improves to 11-1; Gonzaga, who said he broke his hand in the first round, falls to 16-8.
> Watch: Stipe Miocic's Post-Fight Interview on UFC Fight Pass
Longtime lightweight standout Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone made it two straight impressive wins in a row, this time scoring a first round one kick knockout of Brazilian veteran Adriano Martins.
Cerrone (22-6, 1 NC) peppered Martins throughout the opening round with kicks to the leg and body, even scoring a brief takedown. But when Cerrone went upstairs with a right kick to the head, it was game over for Martins (25-7), who fell face first to the mat, prompting referee John McCarthy to immediately stop the bout at 4:40 of the first round.
> Watch: Donald Cerrone's Post-Fight Interview on UFC Fight Pass
Jeremy Stephens remained unbeaten at featherweight in the FOX main card opener, pounding out a three round unanimous decision victory over Darren Elkins.
The scores for the “Lil’ Heathen” read 30-27 twice and 29-28.
Stephens went for broke with every punch he threw, but he was coming up empty early on, allowing Elkins to get in a few quick point-scoring counters. A kick by Elkins that was caught led to a trip to the mat, but Stephens opted to return the fight to the feet after landing some ground strikes. A subsequent takedown attempt by Elkins was rebuffed by Stephens, and then the Iowan began to find his striking range, allowing him to finish strong.
With a mix of thudding power and solid takedown defense, Stephens remained in control in round two. Elkins got more confident with his striking during the second stanza, but as the seconds ticked away, Stephens’ hard shots drew blood from under Elkins’ right eye and kept him at bay.
A trip to the mat early in round three saw Elkins try to sink in a guillotine choke, but to no avail, with Stephens quickly getting loose and to his feet, where he continued to unload hard punches on his ultra-tough foe, who rocked and nearly caught Stephens in a tight choke before the bell intervened.
With the win, Stephens ups his record to 23-9; Portage, Indiana’s Elkins drops to 18-4.
> Watch: Jeremy Stephens' Post-Fight Interview on UFC Fight Pass