SAN JOSE, Calif. – Benson Henderson dropped to one knee shortly after engaging Gilbert Melendez in a rousing lightweight title fight at the HP Pavilion.
He fell to his knee right after ring announcer Bruce Buffer read the judges’ scores in a fight that could've gone either way.
Normally that reaction would indicate disappointment, but after winning a split decision over Melendez to keep his championship, Henderson decided to propose to girlfriend Maria Magana.
A lot happens at UFC shows, but seeing a champion drop to his knee and put a ring on his fiancée's finger is a first. Even though he went five grueling, fast-paced physical rounds with one of the best fighters in the world, Henderson admitted the toughest task he faced on Saturday was to go through with the proposal.
“That one takes the cake,” he said of a very public proposal, which came not only in front of 13,506 fans, but in front of a national television audience on Fox, as well.
He’d been toying with proposing all week and kept going back and forth, not deciding until a couple of hours before the fight. As he mulled it over, he came to the conclusion that Magana is the most important person in his life and he wanted to make the proposal memorable.
He decided to go ahead, even though he said his heart was pounding. It’s remarkable he remains so calm while taking punches and kicks from a vicious fighter like Melendez, but four words – will you marry me? – had him shaking.
“There are a lot more important things in life than fighting,” Henderson said. “I love fighting. I love being able to pay my bills. I love the lifestyle I’m able to live, but sometimes, you’ve got to take care of things that are a lot more important.”
He fights as if there is nothing more important. On Saturday, he kept a frenetic pace and engaged Melendez in an action bout that could have been Fight of the Night if it had occurred on a different card.
On this one though, it never had a chance. There were a series of great bouts with a record-tying eight knockouts in the 12 fights.
Still, the back-and-forth nature of the main event captivated the audience.
Melendez dictated the pace early, and the crowd sensed an upset. Inexplicably, the former Strikeforce lightweight champion backed off and it wound up costing him.
“I took my foot off the gas a little after the second,” said Melendez, who said later he was heartbroken. “The third was close and I thought I came strong [down the stretch]. I thought it was going to come down to the last round and I thought I won the last round. But I’ve got to watch it. Ben’s a stud. What can I say?”
Judge Derek Cleary scored it 48-47 for Henderson, giving the champion the last three rounds. Michael Bell also had it 48-47 for Henderson, but he gave Henderson Rounds 2, 3 and 4. Wade Vierra saw it 48-47 for Melendez, giving the ex-Strikeforce champion Rounds 1, 4 and 5.
Henderson admitted he dropped the first round, which all three judges gave to Melendez. But he said he felt he swept the final four to win the bout.
The only rounds all three judges saw the same were the first and the third, which reflected the close, bitterly fought nature of the fight.
“Everybody was talking about how they scored the fight,” UFC president Dana White said. “Some people had it a draw. Some people had Ben winning. It was one of those fights. It’s a Ben Henderson fight. As soon as it’s over, they’re asking if the guy is going to get an immediate rematch.”
It was asked plenty on Saturday, and the answer couldn’t have pleased Melendez. White said that Gray Maynard will fight T.J. Grant at UFC 160 next month, with the winner getting the next shot at Henderson.
As good as Henderson has become – he’s now 19-2 overall and 7-0 in the UFC, including four consecutive title-fight victories – he lacks the finishing ability that has made light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and middleweight champion Anderson Silva superstars.
He’s a complete fighter who has no discernible weakness, but it’s been 20 months since he had a decisive victory and three years since he got a finish.
For him to vault to the upper echelon, that’s going to be the next thing he needs to add to his game. To be fair, he’s fighting great opposition, though Jones is too and he’s running away from the field.
Henderson, though, wasn’t worried about finishes or rankings or titles after the bout on Saturday. Finally deciding to propose, and hearing Magana say yes, was clearly a relief.
She leapt into his arms, and they embraced as the pro-Melendez crowd slowly started to turn from booing the decision to cheering the proposal.
“I finally manned up and did it,” he said, beaming.
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