SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The UFC lightweight division is Benson Henderson's kingdom, so we're going to have to live by his rules.
Three times, Henderson has put his title on the line. Only once has he emerged the clear victor.
And after Henderson earned a razor-thin split decision victory over Gilbert Melendez at UFC on FOX 7 Saturday night, it's become pretty clear we better get used to it.
Champions who routinely go to a decision are nothing new (can you say "GSP?"). But champs who are often perceived as losing their fights? That's something entirely different.
The MMA Lab fighter was widely considered to be on the gift end of an atrocious decision in his rematch against former champion Frankie Edgar last summer. He rebounded with a masterful performance against Nate Diaz in December.
Last night's split decision victory win doesn't fall in the "robbery" category, but a clear majority of those in the press room after the fight felt that Melendez was the winner, with most of those believing the challenger took rounds 1, 2, and 5.
A champ who is perceived has having a .333 record in his title defenses isn't one who is likely to get consideration at the top of the pound-for-pound lists any time soon, nor one who is going to break out and become one of the company's draws on pay-per-view, where the biggest money is made.
Henderson, for his part, makes a valid point about the depth of the division.
"At 155, the division is so stacked, so deep, top five guys are this far apart (holding his fingers together)," said Henderson. "The top 10 guys are this close. I do imagine I'll be seeing Gil again. An immediate rematch sounds good to me, so does Josh [Thomson], and a lot of guys at 155."
Give credit to Melendez for not making excuses. Had he not let up after a strong first two rounds, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion today. "I thought I won the first two and the fifth for sure. I took my foot of the gas a little after the second," Melendez said. "I thought it was going to come to the last round, and I thought I won the last round. Ben's a stud, what can I say?"
But as long as Henderson is content to slide through with the title intact by the skin of his teeth, we should probably expect more of the same.
"I wouldn't say I had any doubt," said Henderson. "I knew it was close. I thought I lost the first round, but I won the next four. I didn't think it would be split."
UFC on FOX 7 Quotes
"It's really going to be a team decision. We've got to get together with the UFC and my management team and everybody else and figure out what the next step is. We'll get together and figure it out. If they say, ‘Well Daniel if your intention is to be a 205-pounder down the line and we need you to do it now,' then I guess that's what I got to do. It will be a team decision." -- Daniel Cormier, on whether he's going to stay at 265 or drop to light heavyweight.
"Heartbroken. That's all I can say. Heartbroken." -- Melendez, asked his thoughts after the fight.
"Everybody was talking about how they scored the fight. 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." -- White's thoughts on Henderson-Melendez
Stock up: Team Alpha Male
It seemed like the book had been written on Urijah Faber's Sacramento gym. Like their leader, the best Team Alpha Male fighters were hard workers, strong wrestlers, and guys who got all the way to the brink of the top, but not quite there.
Credit the crew for recognizing it needed a change. Since striking coach Duane Ludwig came in, the team looks like it's found that missing one percent. That was no more evident than on Saturday, when featherweight Chad Mendes, flyweight Joseph Benavidez, and bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw all scored impressive finishes in their fights. Mendes and Benavidez both say they want another shot at the titles in their division. Benavidez has fewer divisional roadblocks ahead than Mendes, but either way, both guys belong on the short list.
Stock down: The Diaz brothers
Nick and Nate Diaz are a combined 0-4 in their past four fights. Granted, the losses all came against current and former champions: Nick lost to UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and former WEC and interim UFC champ Carlos Condit; Nate went down to Henderson and former Strikeforce lightweight champ Josh Thomson. But there's no doubt Stockton's finest are at a crossroads. Are all those years of hard training in the gym finally catching up to the Diazes? Do they need a change of approach or scenery? These are the questions they need to answer, because simply doing things "the Diaz way" isn't getting it done in their biggest fights.
Good call: Daniel Cormier
Hear me out on this. The reason I'm calling Cormier "Good Call" is for his ability to recognize what he did wrong in his sluggish unanimous decision victory Frank Mir and pledge to work on it.
"I think I made some mistakes in my training camp," Cormier said. "I can't not wrestle. That's going to limit me. I've got to be able to take the fight everywhere. I train in the whole time without wrestling. And it limited me. I've got to get better in jiu-jitsu, so that I'm comfortable with everything."
Good on Cormier, one of the game's most down-to-earth, honest characters. People seem down on Cormier's prospects, but the bottom line is even his "bad night" ended in a 30-27 across-the-board win over a former champion. Cormier's past four fights include wins over two former UFC heavyweight titleholders and the guy, Antonio Silva, who's getting the next title shot. That's far from a bad resume. His ability to see what's missing and knowing he has to get it done tells me we shouldn't count him out, whichever division he ends up in.
Bad Call: Here and there
There really weren't any terrible calls last night. Henderson-Melendez was razor thin and could have gone either way. Some howled over Francis Carmont's decision win over Lorenz Larkin. But I pin that one down to more to the MMA Internet Outrage Police having nothing else to complain about up until that point. Bottom line on Carmont-Larkin is it was an awful bout in which neither really deserved a win, but someone had to get the nod.
Perhaps "Bad Call" should go to those who beat the concept of "UFC vs. Strikeforce" into the ground, even when you had fights like Jorge Masvidal, who has appeared on everything except those Bum Fight DVDs, billed as a "Strikeforce" fighter, against Tim Means, who had 14 of his previous 22 career bouts in King of the Cage, as "UFC." Give it a rest, already.
Fight I want to see next: Henderson-Melendez II
Are you really all that excited for the winner of Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant against Henderson? When White ended the post-fight press conference with the most underwhelming No. 1 contender's fight announcement in quite some time, they may as well have also played a sad trombone. Maynard's already had two cracks at the title and few outside of Canada want to see Grant in a title match just yet. Yes, White defensively said every Henderson bout ends with questions on whether his opponent should get an immediate rematch. But guess what? Melendez deserves an immediate rematch.