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Benson Henderson ekes out split-decision win, proposes to girlfriend as crowd boos

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Benson Henderson came out a double winner on Saturday.

Only minutes after narrowly retaining his UFC lightweight title by claiming a split decision over ex-Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, Henderson proposed to girlfriend Maria Magana in the Octagon at the HP Pavilion. 

He got on one knee and asked Magana to marry him. After she said yes, he picked her off her feet and they embraced, and the pro-Melendez crowd booed the whole scene.

It was a wild end to a great night of fights. The eight knockouts tied a record for most knockouts on a card, matching the record set at UFC 92 in 2008.

Henderson and Melendez fought a back-and-forth bout that could have gone either way. Two judges had it 48-47 for Henderson and the third went 48-47 for Melendez. Yahoo! Sports scored it for Melendez, giving him Rounds 1, 2 and 5.

Each man landed his share of strikes and kicks and had his moments in the fight. Neither was ever close to being finished, and neither was able to put together long stretches of offense.

The crowd was solidly in Melendez’s corner and booed loudly at the decision. The booing then carried over into Henderson's proposal.

“I know how tough Gil is,” Henderson said.

And, undoubtedly, Melendez knows how tough Henderson is. It’s likely the two will see each other again soon.

The heavyweight bout between Daniel Cormier and Frank Mir, which had been one of the card’s most anticipated bouts, drained the life from the crowd.

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Frank Mir punches Daniel Cormier during their heavyweight fight. (USA Today)

It was slow, plodding and without much action. Much of the bout was spent with Cormier pinning Mir against the cage. Several times, referee Herb Dean had to urge them to fight.

Cormier won 30-27 on all three cards in a bout that did little to enhance his reputation as one of the sport’s up-and-comers. The crowd, which had been at a fever pitch with eight knockouts in the first 10 bouts, was angry and didn’t hesitate to let the fighters know it.

They sucked the life from a card that was clearly the best of the year and will give UFC producers highlight-reel footage for years. 

“I’m not happy with my performance,” Cormier said. “I was nervous and I can’t explain why. It must’ve been this big fight feel. I didn’t fight how I wanted. I controlled the fight and I thought I landed some good punches. At the end of the day, I stay undefeated and move forward. Before I walked into the cage I felt a little nervous. Maybe it was all the back and forth between Frank and I leading up to the fight. I’m sure the jitters will get better with time.

“I should’ve thrown my jab more and kicked more. On the outside, I felt like I was landing great punches. There’s a lot of things I can do differently.” 

In one of the great bouts on the card, Josh Thomson made his first UFC bout in more than eight years one to remember, stopping Nate Diaz in the second round following a kick to the head, a pair of right hands and some ground and pound.

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Josh Thomson punches Nate Diaz during their fight. (USA Today)

The bout was a high-paced one from the beginning, with Diaz, as usual, stalking. Diaz also taunted Thomson, who was circling away to set up his strikes, by making an obscene gesture several times.

It didn’t affect the veteran a bit, though. He stuck to his plan and landed a series of kicks to the head that were hurting Diaz. One of them opened a deep gash on the top of his head.

The kick that began the finishing sequence sent Diaz awkwardly staggering toward his corner. Thomson cracked him with two hard rights that put Diaz down.

Thomson went for the kill, and someone in the Diaz corner threw in the towel, though referee Mike Beltran didn’t see it. But Beltran eventually stopped it and gave Thomson the win at 3:44 of the second. 

“I played this over and over in my head and honestly, I had myself losing a couple times, too,” Thomson said. “I couldn’t have scripted it any better. I doubted myself a little bit. I was more nervous for this fight than I was for Gilbert. I thought he posed a lot of problems for me from his ground to his reach. ... The first round I felt confident in the clinch, but in the second round he got a little better, so it threw me off. My whole game plan was to pick him apart and take what he gives me. I see Nate on TV, and the dude looks great. I respect him and Nick.

“The whole camp. I think the difference for me was mixing it up [with] punches, kicks, knees, takedowns, elbows. I did something the champ didn’t. I finished him in three. I think I deserve a shot at the title, but it’s hard for me to say. I was fighting in UFC before it was cool. I started my career here, and I’m so happy that I get to finish it here.” 

Matt Brown opened the night with an extraordinary stoppage of Jordan Mein. Brown used a series of powerful strikes to cause Mein to wilt under the pressure. Referee John McCarthy mercifully stopped it at 1:00 of the second. 

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Matt Brown celebrates after defeating Jordan Mein. (Credit: USA Today)

The final sequence began when Brown cracked Mein with three big knees, which caused Mein to bleed from the nose and mouth.

He was on all fours, and Brown threw a series of elbows to the head and side before McCarthy jumped in to halt it.

The win was Brown’s fifth in a row and his third stoppage in succession.

“I think Jordan’s hype was well deserved,” Brown said. “He hurt me really bad with that body shot. I was really close to being incapacitated and unable to defend myself. I have no idea who I want next, but I think I deserve a fight that would put me in title contention. Every day I wake up and work as hard as I can. Some days you’re on and some days you’re off. I definitely woke up today.”

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