At this point, whenever Benson Henderson is in a big headlining spot on a UFC card, you half expect it to end in controversy. Controversy, that is, for the guy he’s facing -- not for the guy getting his arm raised. Which always seems to be Henderson himself.
Things were no different in his main event bout at UFC on FOX 10 in Chicago against Josh Thomson. Just like with the second Frankie Edgar fight back at UFC 150 in 2012, and his title defense against Gilbert Melendez in April of 2013, Henderson was the recipient of a narrow split decision victory that left a lot of fans and media joining in a chorus of "robbery."
Realistically, the fight was very close.
The former lightweight champion Henderson out-struck the UFC’s No. 1 contender Thomson throughout the fight on the feet, but found himself in peril on multiple occasions, giving up his back several times and warding off submissions. Thomson appeared to win many of the scrambles and to control portions of the fight, but Henderson kept the center of the Octagon and dictated much of the action while standing. In the end, the judges scored it in favor of Henderson, with judge Sal D’Amato even going so far as to give Henderson four of the five rounds. The final tally was 48-47, 47-48, 49-46 for Henderson.
And just as he was in his previous close decisions, Henderson said in the post-fight press conference that a win is a win is a win, doesn’t matter how it controversial it seems.
"Hey, getting a W in the UFC? Let’s see how you take it," he said with a smile. "I like W’s. I like getting my hand raised, and I’ll take it any way I can get it. You slip on a banana peel, by the skin of my teeth, by any means."
The man on the short end of that decision, Thomson, was emotional in defeat. Though he said he broke his thumb in the first round, which prompted Illinois officials to ask him if they should stop the bout, he managed to fight through the pain and adjust enough to make it a hard decision.
"I noticed my thumb bending all the way back to my wrist," he said. Though his corner told him to "suck it up" and fight on, he was limited as to what he could do for the rest of the fight.
"It was more irritating than anything, just to know just to know that the things you need to do you can do out there," he said. "You train this hard, for this long, for such a long camp, and I see my title shot just f---ing disappearing, you know. Without getting emotional right now, it’s really irritating me."
Thomson was supposed to fight Anthony Pettis in December for the lightweight title at UFC on FOX 9, but Pettis had to withdraw with a knee injury. Though he shrugged his shoulders at the scorecards early in the presser saying "my opinion doesn’t matter," when asked if it would be a loss like this -- after ceding his No. 1 position spot, and with a history of close defeats -- Thomson made it clear that it stung.
"The Gilbert [Melendez] fight, hey, that to me was a close fight, I could see how it went either way," Thomson said. "This fight, I felt like I won. And I won with one hand. I beat the former UFC champion, who was a guy who’s been here for two years, and I beat him with one hand. That’s what I can’t stomach. I’m a better fighter, and that pisses me off."
When asked how difficult it would actually be, he said -- somewhat surprisingly -- that his time in the game might be nearing an end.
"This might be it, man."
Thomson, who said he had the worst training camp of his career heading in, later added that retirement was something that had been on his mind anyway, win or lose. When asked if he would have considered walking away if he were to have beat Henderson, and have earned the title shot next, he said he would.
"I’d still be in the same position," he said. "There’s a possibility [that’d I’d have turned down a title shot with a win], because what’s the point of winning the title knowing that you’re not going to fight that much longer? I don’t want to do that to the UFC either. But like I said, I’ve got to sit down with them and just talk about the direction of how this all should go.
"I love this sport. I love being around the guys. It’s great being in the back, and I think anybody who was in my locker room knows, I was back there with smiles just knowing this has been great. I love it, this is the best."