UFC on Fox 5 preview
December 8, 2012
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Benson Henderson (16-2) vs. Nate Diaz (16-7)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Henderson -140, Diaz +110
Benson Henderson will look to defend his belt for the second time as challenger Nate Diaz takes the Octagon against him Saturday night in Seattle.
Henderson first won the title from Frankie Edgar on UFC 144 and has defended it once since then, a split decision in a rematch with Edgar. Diaz, meanwhile, has been working his way up the lightweight ladder after coming back into the class last year. Since then he is 3-0 with strong wins against Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller. The recent fights show some of the major differences in tactics between Henderson and Diaz. All of Henderson's past five fights-all wins-have gone to the judges whereas Diaz has ended two of his past three before the final bell with submissions. Although Diaz will be looking to do the same again here, few fighters in all of MMA defend as well as Henderson.
At 5-foot-9, Henderson cedes three inches to Diaz. But height has never been a problem for him, nor should it, given his fighting style. A wrestler by trade, he employs a relentless ground-and-pound attack that frustrates opponents to no end, making it difficult for them to ever get in an attacking groove. Prior to his wins against Edgar, he beat Clay Guida, Jim Miller and Mark Bocek. If need be, Henderson has shown the capability of ending a fight early-he has six career submissions compared to seven career decisions. But he has not earned one since 2010 in the WEC against Cerrone.
At 6-foot-0, Diaz is tall for a lightweight. Whereas Henderson brings a physical full body style type of confrontation to the Octagon, Diaz is much more of a striker, looking to pound his opponent to set up the submission. He did that easily in his last fight against Miller. The one weakness of his that could be really exposed, however, is his takedown defense-he only avoids only 48% of total takedowns, which could be a problem against a guy like Henderson whose wrestling style will try that tactic early and often.
BJ Penn (16-8-2) vs. Rory MacDonald (13-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line: MacDonald -300, Penn +240
BJ Penn will look to deliver Rory MacDonald his second career loss in the top welterweight bout on UFC on FOX 5's main card on Saturday night.
Penn has a number of losses to his name but is among the most well-traveled in the sport, having competed for the welterweight crown and owned the lightweight title. This is just his fourth fight since returning to the welterweight class, a span in which he is 1-1-1. MacDonald has looked unbeatable lately, with three consecutive wins against Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills after losing to Carlos Condit. Understandably, MacDonald enters this fight as the heavy chalk, but Penn is a scrappy fighter who will not go down easily. Although he is three inches shorter, Penn is crafty on his feet and can sneak in for the submission or knockout at any point.
Since returning to the welterweight division, Penn has beaten Matt Hughes, drawn Jon Fitch and lost to Nick Diaz, not to be confused with the Nate Diaz who MacDonald beat. The win against Hughes-a KO just 21 seconds in-showed Penn's growth, as he had previously lost to Hughes when vying for the welterweight championship in 2006. With the loss and draw, Penn showed he does not have the ideal consistency of top fighters. And he will likely lose this one if it reaches the final bell like those two fights did. But with six career submissions and seven career knockouts, he is more than capable of walking out of the Octagon as the winner before the final bell.
MacDonald brings a nasty combination of boxing and Jiu-Jitsu to the table, and at 6-foot-0 he owns a three-inch height advantage in this bout. His last two wins have demonstrated his power, winning with TKO via punches against Pyle and Mills. But if he takes it to the ground, he can also win via submission, something he has done six times in his career. His one career loss, to Condit, was a TKO. He could be poised for a title bout down the road, but he must not overlook Penn, who has seen everything and may just be able to outcraft this up-and-comer.
Mauricio Rua (21-6) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (14-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Gustafsson -220, Rua +170
In a critical light heavyweight eliminator bout, Mauricio Rua will take on Alexander Gustafsson on the main card of Saturday's UFC on FOX 5 lineup.
Gustafsson has just one career loss and has won five consecutive fights, all in UFC, including his most recent one against Thiago Silva. Those five fights have demonstrated his flexibility in the Octagon-the win against Silva was a decision, but the other four were comprised of two TKOs and two submissions. Rua is a former UFC light heavyweight champion, winning the belt in 2010, but he was unable to defend it, with Jon Jones taking it in the next bout. Since then, he has gone 2-1, with wins over Forrest Griffin and Brandon Vera and a loss to Dan Henderson. There is no denying Rua's power. His past six wins have been knockouts. But Gustafsson has been too consistent and at 6-foot-5, he owns a massive four-inch height advantage over Rua.
At 6-foot-1, Rua packs a mean punch-18 of his 21 career wins have been knockouts. His aggressive fighting style often sets him up to win fights early, but it also often leaves him vulnerable to getting attacked. His defense rates evidence that, as he avoids just 49% of incoming strikes and 26% of takedowns. His Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu are among the best in the sport, with strikes forming the base of his attacking style. But his weak defenses should be exploitable by somebody as talented as Gustafsson, who rarely makes mistakes. Rua certainly has a chance to win this and earn another shot at the belt, but the odds need to be longer to justify playing on him.
Gustafsson is among the tallest in this weight class and it pays off in the Octagon where he regularly towers over his opponents and uses that advantage to gain leverage. His last win, against Silva, was an encouraging one because it showed his patience against an aggressive fighter, outlasting the top-notch fighter for a unanimous decision. This fight, however, will likely not go to the final bell, given Rua's uber-aggressive tactics. And Gustafsson's strong stand-up skills should fare well against that, putting him in a position to earn a knockout or submission when Rua lets up his guard for the inevitable attack.