Many think the UFC lightweight title tilt between champion Benson Henderson and challenger Nate Diaz has “Fight of the Year” potential. The two top-shelf 155-pounders will meet in the UFC on Fox 5 main event this Saturday at the Key Arena in Seattle.
Henderson has recorded 15 wins in his past 16 outings, including five in a row since joining the UFC as part of the World Extreme Cagefighting merger. The 29-year-old MMA Lab export last appeared at UFC 150 in November, when he took a split decision from former champion Frankie Edgar in their rematch at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Diaz used wins over Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller as a springboard to title contention. The 27-year-old Cesar Gracie protégé won Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and has been a mainstay inside the Octagon ever since. Diaz has secured more than half (11) of his 16 professional victories by submission.
Sherdog.com touched base with a number of professional fighters and trainers to gauge their opinions on the UFC on Fox 5 “Henderson vs. Diaz” main event:
Rich Franklin: Benson-Diaz is a great matchup because the thing with Diaz is that he’s constantly coming forward. Benson is a very explosive fighter, and you saw that with his fights with Frankie. Frankie is constantly moving in and out and gives you those angles, but Benson did a great job with his footwork and counters. The Diaz brothers are these guys who constantly come forward and they peck at you until they wear you down. With a lot of explosive fighters, that style can be problematic for them. Benson has the ability to take the fight into so many different areas and he can easily bring the fight to the ground, but he’ll run into the problem of Diaz’s great jiu jitsu. I think Benson will look at this and have a completely different game plan for Diaz, as opposed to somebody like Frankie. In this fight, he’s definitely going to have to mix things up and go back and forth; he can’t just rely on his explosive athleticism to win the fight.
Myles Jury: Henderson wins.
Jeremy Stephens: Diaz wins.
Ramsey Nijem: I’m going to go with Nate in a fourth-round submission. I think Nate is going to get taken down early but be able to turn it into a war. As the fight gets into the later rounds, I think Nate will be able to catch Ben in a submission.
Tarec Saffiedine: I would give a little advantage to Nate with his relentless standup and submission skills, but Ben is hard to finish. Nate wins via unanimous decision.
Justin Salas: I go with my boy, Benson. We started our careers together at the same time here in Colorado back in the day. Diaz can’t sub or outwork Ben.
Tom DeBlass: I’m going to have to go with Diaz on this. His constant pressure along with range, I believe, will present problems for Benson. I believe he also has better jiu-jitsu, so Benson is truly in danger anywhere the fight may be. Benson will have to close the distance and keep Diaz against the cage in order to pose a real threat.
Fredson Paixao: Henderson wins.
Igor Araujo: I can’t see Diaz submitting or knocking Benson out. This fight goes the distance, and Benson fought five rounds a few times in his life; I don't know if Nate did. Nate will try to eat the cake fast when it’s still hot and will burn his mouth. Henderson knows how to cook it better and knows the exact time to eat it. I go with Henderson by decision in the “Fight of the Year.”
Andy Ogle: Henderson has dominated all of his opponents in the UFC since ending his time in the WEC with a closely fought loss to Anthony Pettis in a fight largely remembered for the “Matrix” kick that sealed the victory for “Showtime.” Henderson said he would come back stronger, and he has. I love the Diaz we have seen of late -- he’s dangerous and confident -- but I can’t see Henderson losing.
Jeff Hougland: I’m picking Diaz via fourth-round submission.
Caros Fodor: Man, I am so excited for this fight. I am a huge Henderson fan; I love his style. However, I can never go against one of the Diaz brothers. Their ground game and in-your-face style is brutal. I think Henderson might hurt Diaz on the feet, but when the fight hits the ground, I got Diaz by submission in the later rounds.
Mitch Clarke: Benson, hands down. I think he will be far too athletic and physical for Diaz. I think it will be similar to how Rory MacDonald treated Diaz. Plus, the fact that Nate doesn’t check leg kicks and Benson has a dynamic kicking game will tell the story of the fight.
Steven Siler: Benson will take it by decision. Diaz is fun to watch, but he will struggle with Benson’s wrestling and won’t be able to sub him.
Danillo Villefort: I’d really like to see Diaz win this fight, but Benson is way more athletic. I like to be wrong, but I don’t see Diaz knocking Benson out or submitting him. I believe Benson will win by TKO.
Joe Proctor: I think Henderson-Diaz is a great matchup. It’s a fun fight to watch because they have completely different styles. If I had to choose a winner, I would say Diaz by submission. Nate has great awkward style of boxing that I think will frustrate Henderson into a takedown, and I think Diaz will be able to capitalize and catch him in a submission.
Zach Makovsky: Really tough fight to call. Only thing I can see for sure is a middle finger from Diaz. I’m just not sure if it will be a disgruntled middle finger to the judges or a victory middle finger after a late-round sub. Either way, I see a “Fight of the Year” nominee.
Jason Dent: Diaz wins by submission in round four.
Keith Berry: Diaz wins a decision, and it will be a war.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: I think this is a pretty even matchup. I think standing it is Diaz’s punches versus Benson’s kicks. The wrestling should go to Henderson, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu will go to Diaz. Both guys are in shape, so I see the fight going the distance. Diaz by close decision is my pick.
Benji Radach: Boy, this one could go either way. I’m gonna have to go with Benson. I got to train with him last summer. Nate will be a tough fight for anyone, though. Excited to see this one.
Johny Hendricks: I think that Henderson is going to win because of his takedowns, and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- not staying in the full guard -- is good. Also, he doesn’t take many punches. I think it’s going to be a ground fight all the way. Henderson wins via five-round decision.
John Gunderson: I’m going with Diaz, unless Benson tries to just hold on and smother Nate for five rounds. I think that Diaz will bust him up bad and then maybe even sub him. The Diaz brothers are real fighters and bring it every time.
Nam Phan: Diaz is gonna be the new UFC lightweight champion.
Jacob Volkmann: Henderson wins a unanimous decision and wins every round.
Kyle Kingsbury: Diaz wins the mean mug contest and pulls off the upset, as well.
Robert Drysdale: Benson wins.
Erik Paulson: This should be a fight where Ben wants to get Nate to the ground. Nate’s standup has really come a long way. Either way, up or down, this will be a pretty dynamic fight because both guys come out with guns blazing.
John Hackleman: I think it will be a tremendously entertaining and competitive fight, a real treat for the fans. I think Henderson’s dynamic, fast, explosive movement will be a perfect match for Nate’s slower yet very aggressive and methodical style. All I can say about the outcome of this fight is, on paper at least, it will be a tremendously competitive and entertaining fight and a great matchup for the fans. It’s definitely a win-win.
Jason High: I enjoy watching both these guys, and this fight, on paper, is ridiculous. I have to go with Ben, though. Submission defense, wrestling and pace will be too much. I think it will be a really close fight.
Mark Bocek: I don’t think Benson will gas, he’s hard to submit, has better wrestling and is stronger. Benson wins, maybe by decision.
Pros Picking Diaz: 13
Pros Picking Henderson: 13
No Pick: 5