Tales of a Paper Champion – Properly Evaluating Benson Henderson’s Reign on Top of the UFC lightweight division
by Scott "Kubryk" Sawitz on September 3, 2013

Ten years from now we’ll look at Benson Henderson’s record at lightweight in a much better light than we do now. We’ll see the epic winning streak that followed his debut in the UFC following his loss to Anthony Pettis in a different light. The final WEC title fight could’ve been one that hastened a downward spiral for Henderson; what could’ve been a signature moment of failure turned into one of spectacular success. Henderson for an extended period of time established himself as the premier lightweight in the world. We’ll look at two wins over Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez, two of the best from their time period, as significant. The dominant win over Diaz might be looked at his peak, signature moment in MMA.

We’ll look at his career through things like Wikipedia and the Sherdog Fight Finder as something extraordinary when in fact it really wasn’t. The truth has to be told, even if it feels reactionary, because Henderson’s reign on top of the lightweight division wasn’t noteworthy. Henderson may have won a number of fights … but he never did anything to make us think he really was the best. And it’s why we should keep some historical perspective when it comes to trying to objectively evaluate Henderson’s reign as UFC lightweight champion.

He is a great fighter … but never a great champion.

That’s the downside to marginally beating Edgar twice, both of which many felt were Edgar wins. The Melendez fight was the same way, as Henderson got the official win but it was close enough hat you could argue Melendez won. The only fight he definitively won in a UFC championship fight was against Nate Diaz, an emphatic five round thrashing of the younger Diaz. He was the king of somehow managing to win despite not appearing to do so.

You could never respect a champion who does that though … and it’s why Henderson never got the sort of due respect we give to the rest of the UFC championship roster.

The one thing every other UFC title holder has, that Henderson never did, was the profound feeling that they were the best in the world. GSP may grind out wins but he grinds them out definitively. Jon Jones has finished nearly every fighter he’s faced for the light heavyweight title. Cain Velasquez beat the brakes off of both Junior Dos Santos and Brock Lesnar for both of his title reigns. Demetrious Johnson may have taken close decisions over John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez … but he dominated John Moraga for four rounds before tapping him in the fifth. Renan Barao tapped Michael McDonald after a dominant title win over Urijah Faber. Jose Aldo is being handed lightweights cutting down to 145 because not too many featherweights even seem credible. Chris Weidman knocked out Anderson Silva … cold.

We can look at the UFC champions as they stand currently and we knew, beyond a doubt, that they represent the best. We never really thought that about Henderson. When history is written about his title reign hopefully it’ll reflect this truth instead of just reflecting wins and losses.


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