The following elements could have significant influence, decide the fight’s outcome or — since “anything can happen” and sometimes fighters just get punched square in the face — play absolutely no role whatsoever.
Ben Henderson vs Josh Thomson
Thomson’s explosiveness and agility: There has been quite a noticeable disparity in Thomson’s quickness and ability to explode into action, which is likely attributed to the laundry list of nagging injuries he’s endured. For example, contrast Thomson’s physical alacrity against K.J. Noons, a bout in which many of his his strikes and takedown attempts were unhinged almost sluggishly and without set ups, and his firecracker performance against top-ranked Gilbert Melendez. And those were consecutive fights just a few months apart. “The Punk” rose up wielding a dual-pronged medley of rapidly uncorked kickboxing combinations and takedown attempts, so his explosiveness is a key attribute.
Thomson’s incessant range kicks: While the dramatic high kick that felled Nate Diaz got plenty of attention, Thomson’s always had an underrated and effective repertoire of kicks, and he employs them heavily to wreak havoc from distance and to control the range and tempo. Henderson is mostly a close-range fighter and his powerful low kick is really his only distance weapon. With uncanny timing, Henderson’s low kick could be implemented as a sweep to take out Thomson’s support leg on standard high kicks but he’ll probably have to drum up a counter to addresses the linear extension of Thomson’s straight front kicks and teeps from outside.
Thomson’s experience and craftiness: whether it unfolds as a plus or a minus, Thomson was fighting for the role of alpha-lightweight in the UFC a full decade ago. The myriad benefits of battle-hardened experience are too lengthy to list but random examples include the outer standing foot sweep he hit on Melendez, the way he transitioned from his unending torrent of front kicks into a jumping switch kick against Noons or his subtle look-away to set up the fight-ending high kick against Diaz.
Henderson fighting where his opponent is strongest: Henderson barnstormed the UFC as a wrestling-based fighter with somewhat atypical and ever-improving stand up, a dominant clinch and takedown game, unreal scrambling ability and exceptional submission defense. However, quite curiously, Henderson fought to his opponent’s strengths throughout his run as contender and champion: he immersed himself in grappling wars against BJJ black belt and takedown artist Mark Bocek and wrestler Clay Guida, then contested known striking threats Frankie Edgar and Diaz on the feet. As of now, that tendency is a positive because the strategy worked but will quickly turn into a negative when/if it doesn’t. Regardless of the outcome, it’s a risky and questionable approach.
Henderson fighting where he is strongest: This and the last are obviously interchangeable but still warranted separate emphasis. A common foundation in many different martial arts is fighting where your opponent is the weakest and also where you are the strongest. Considering Henderson’s venomous concoction of skills, he could be an overwhelming phase-shifter — meaning he has the wide-ranging acumen to constantly cycle between and impose different phases of combat. For example, just with his rock-solid wrestling and tricky striking, Henderson could confuse his opponent by coming forward aggressively with striking combinations to set the tone and then switching things up by approaching just as aggressively, but changing levels to attack with takedowns or clinching instead.
This might not sound like much but being unpredictable and constantly throwing different looks at your adversary forces them to heighten their defense and their awareness on you and your actions. Anytime your opponent is worried about your offense and what you’re doing, they become reactionary and defensive, and their offense suffers. And offense wins fights — defense alone does not.
Henderson’s intelligence and Fight IQ: Despite his aforementioned habit of being content to fight in his opponent’s best realm and not fully exploiting his own strengths and diversity, Henderson fights smart and in a manner that is highly conducive to the judges. He’s typically the one who leaves the most momentous impression after each round, he’s either ahead on the score cards or doing the right things to regain ground, he doesn’t make stupid mistakes and he’s extremely difficult to mount offense against. Thomson is far from a unintelligent fighter but he’s highly instinctual and his effective pressure does undergo surges and lulls, and few lightweights are as composed, consistent and calculating as Henderson.
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