Benson Henderson found himself at the center of controversy once again following Saturday night's split decision win over Josh Thomson at UFC on FOX 10, as a groundswell of Henderson's biggest oft-repeated criticism -- that the record-tying former UFC lightweight champion fights safe and is content to win razor-thin decisions -- picked up in full force after yet another close call landed in Henderson's favor.
Henderson's head coach John Crouch heard the outcry -- because let's face it, it'd be impossible not to -- although for the most part, he believes it to be unfounded.
"In my mind, [Thomson] was definitely playing more of a points game than we were. He was trying to win the rounds. He was trying to win according to the judges' scorecard," Crouch said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"I honestly, I don't understand the uproar. I thought we won the fight clearly. We lost the first (round). After that, Josh got some great takedowns, he's really tricky in the clinch, he's got some great trips and he's got some really great highlights against Gilbert (Melendez) with those trips. But he didn't do anything. I don't feel like Josh ever tried to finish the fight, not once. Benson has taken a lot of criticism for not trying to finish, but I feel like we were the aggressor the whole time. Honestly, that's what led us to make a couple of mistakes to give up positions, was trying to be aggressive. So I didn't really think it was questionable."
Despite the familiar minefield of criticism Henderson wound up navigating in light of his win, Saturday night's result did little to provide the UFC a viable No. 1 contender for the promotion's title, as Thomson was to be the next man in line.
Afterward, UFC President Dana White rejected the idea that Henderson had done much to bolster his case for a rematch against lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, adding that Henderson's performance against Thomson was a fight he'd seen "a million times," and that Henderson was "a grinder," "not a finisher."
"Dana doesn't like us too much," Crouch told host Ariel Helwani in response to White's comments. "Benson's never gotten to sit at the cool table, you know? And I think it's unfortunate because he's a great dude, and he works super hard. Not that other people don't, but you know Ben, you've been around him. He's nothing but just a humble great guy, and he works his butt off. So I'm not surprised by the backlash, but I am disappointed by it, certainly."
Crouch was then asked to elaborate on whether he truly believes White dislikes Henderson. "I don't know if he doesn't like Ben, but he's certainly not a fan of how Ben wins his fights," Crouch replied.
"I think he said it a few times, hasn't he? Grinding it out, Benson Henderson style fight. Winning close decisions. He said that, and you know, everybody would love to have finishes. God, it'd be great. If somebody could show me how to make his left hand explode people's heads when he threw it, it'd be awesome. Let's do that.
"When you play in the NFL, you don't always win 70-0," Crouch later added. "Sometimes you win in overtime when the other guy fumbles the snap and you kick a field goal that bounces off the uprights. Sometimes you win those games, and you've got to take those games as well as the big ones. So it's just a little frustrating to hear him get that criticism."
For all it's idiosyncrasies, Henderson's title reign currently sits atop the heap, tied with B.J. Penn for the most statistically impressive championship run in UFC lightweight history.
Yet the stigma of close battles with Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez still linger for Henderson. Now the addition of another controversial win, this time over Thomson, only adds fuel to his critics' fire.
"We're fighting the best people in the world over and over again," Crouch said. "Still nobody's finished Frankie Edgar, right? And Gilbert Melendez, same thing. All the last guys we've fought.
"Benson isn't really one of those loud, talky guys. It's just not him. So some of the people get more press and more attention, which is fine with him -- and that's honestly fine with me because it leaves us to train -- but I feel like it doesn't give him the proper amount of respect.
"Like, it wasn't Josh's problem that the fight didn't go in an exciting fashion? It was our fault, right? We didn't do enough to do what we were supposed to do? In my mind, Josh was the one who fought a more technical, point-oriented fight. Maybe it was because of his hand was hurt. There's reasons for it -- I'm not saying it was a bad strategy, it almost worked. But it's just, you know, I'd like to see Benson get the love that other people get too, that's all."
For his part, Henderson has historically shrugged off the criticism and repeated the mantra that he'll fight anybody at any time, and will take a win anyway he can get it -- a sentiment he happily reiterated once again at UFC on FOX 10's post-fight press conference.
For Crouch though, a man who's known Henderson for years and been along for the ride every step of the way, having to hear the public's continual onslaught of negativity can get a little personal.
"Sometimes it's tough as a trainer," Crouch admitted. "You see the guys sweat, you see them bleed, and they're doing everything they can. And not just my guy. Like when GSP and Johny Hendricks went down, man, the guy can't do anything more than his best. That's it. What do you want him to do?
"Jon Fitch was in trouble for doing it. Jon Fitch was great. What are you supposed to do, he's not a knockout guy? It's frustrating for me that that's such an integral part of our sport. I know people want to see knockouts. I know they love to see people just get in there and go crazy, but man, that's not smart fighting. Your career doesn't last very long when you're one of those guys. You get ‘Fight of the Night' bonus, and your record in the UFC is 1-3, and then you're fighting for $2,000 at some local show. That's it. Then you never go back, and you have all these bad habits and you don't fight smart. Some guys are great at it, and that's great, more power to them. But that's a hard way to go, and you have to have some natural gifts to be able to do that."
While it's true that the incessant noise gets tiresome at times, particularly for Crouch, both he and Henderson acknowledge that, in the end, it's exactly that -- noise.
Henderson's triumph over Thomson will still go down as a ‘W' -- his eighth in nine attempts inside the Octagon -- and the former champ will continue to grind, getting one-percent better inside the gym while he awaits his next assignment.
"It doesn't matter (who we fight next). It's not up to us," Crouch said in closing. "We're just going to keep getting better, so whoever they give us, we'll just keep beating them until we get to see Pettis again. We're looking forward to that."