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Criticisms of Benson Henderson's style are off base; UFC lightweight champ always delivers

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

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Benson Henderson: Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing. (MMAWeekly)

There is a perception of Benson Henderson bubbling up that is just plain wrong.

The UFC lightweight champ is a great fighter that has beaten a Who's Who of the world's best lightweights and he's carried himself at all times as the kind of guy who should be promoted as one of the faces of his sport.

But as he prepares to defend his title Saturday in yet another very difficult match against Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC on Fox 5 at Key Arena in Seattle, Henderson has had to fend off accusations that he's not a compelling fighter.

Diaz called him a "round-winner," a pointed jab that has no merit. Henderson has been involved in some of the greatest fights in recent memory, including his 2009 match with Donald Cerrone and his 2010 bout against Anthony Pettis.

He earned the UFC's No. 1 contender spot in the deep lightweight division on Nov. 12, 2011, when he bested Clay Guida in a fight that stole the show at UFC on Fox 1.

Henderson then won the title in a frantic, high-paced fight against Frankie Edgar in February at UFC 144 and then defended it against Edgar at UFC 150.

He's won Fight of the Night twice in his five UFC fights and won Fight of the Night twice and Submission of the Night once while he was competing in the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting.

[Also: Nate Diaz emerged from rough upbringing to contend for a UFC title]

Though the rematch with Edgar wasn't as exciting as the first fight – undoubtedly a product of the men knowing each other so well after 25 minutes in the cage together – it was hardly a snoozer.

The notion that Henderson is somehow not elite is laughably off base. He's as thoughtful in the cage as he is outside of it and that, perhaps, is where he gets into some trouble.

He's not splitting opponents open the way that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones does, but who in the sport is anywhere near as dominant as Jones? Jones is an extraordinary, special talent and virtually every fighter who ever lived would pale in comparison to him.

Henderson shouldn't apologize for anything, because he's everything the UFC wants its athletes to be.

UFC president Dana White encourages an all-out explosive style. Henderson does that, but within the parameters of a game plan.

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Benson Henderson celebrates after winning the UFC lightweight title. (Courtesy Tracy Lee for Y! Sports)

"They encourage us to [fight exciting fights], but I'll use an analogy to the NFL," Henderson said. "In essence, they don't want games that are going to be 9-6 and are going to be won on field goal kicks. In the UFC, they want fights to be exciting. They want knockouts. They want submissions. ...

"But at the same time, you have to be smart about it. You have to get your hand raised and get the W. Look, in the NFL, if you get a four-touchdown lead in the second quarter, it's best to play it safe the rest of the way. There's no knockout rule in the NFL or they don't stop the game if a team is ahead by four touchdowns in the second quarter. It's smart in that case to play it safe. I can't take a crazy risk, but if I have a chance to finish the fight, I have to go for it because if I don't, I could be at risk later to be finished myself."

[Also: Rory MacDonald hurting himself with loyal philosophy]

Many thought Henderson didn't deserve to win the decision over Edgar in the rematch. Yahoo! Sports had scored the first Henderson-Edgar fight 48-47 for Henderson, but had the rematch at UFC 150 scored 49-46 for Edgar.

Henderson has felt the wrath of those who felt Edgar won and who now consider him something of a paper champion. He said he's rewatched the fight and noticed mistakes he's made, but he's not apologizing for going home with the belt.

"I watched it twice, once just for fun to actually see it and then a second time to evaluate it," he said. "I wanted to see the holes I left open and the holes that he left open that I missed. That's part of being a professional and trying to learn and trying to fix mistakes.

"As far as the controversial elements of it go, I felt I did enough to win, definitely. The problem was that the first fight was a clearer, more definitive win for me. If the first fight had come second, we wouldn't be talking. We'd say, 'Oh, they had a really close first fight, but Benson clearly won the second.' But when you flip the order, the perception changes. I still think I won both of them, though."

[Also: UFC fighter Mike Swick looking to build on victorious return]

He knows it will be a dogfight against Diaz, who has been on a roll since his return to the lightweight division.

That is just the kind of fight in which he shines.

Win or lose against Diaz, though, one thing is certain: A perception of Benson Henderson as anything other than one of the world's best, and most exciting fighters, is utter nonsense.

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