Looking Forward: UFC on Fox 5

Is anyone else done with the UFC 151 drama? Tired of talking about Jon Jones? Yeah, me too.

Let’s all take a collective breath, move past one of the most bizarre stretches in MMA history, and look forward to one of the most exciting UFC cards of the year: UFC on Fox 5.

The UFC’s deal with Fox has been an experiment with mixed results thus far. UFC on Fox 1 drew respectable numbers (an average of 5.7 million), but was criticized for only airing one match during an hour timeslot. UFC on Fox 2 featured big names but flat results; every fight on the main card went the distance. The UFC then tried something new with the third show, easing off the star power for style matchups that guaranteed fireworks. Still, the numbers dropped. UFC on Fox 4’s ratings were also disappointing at first glance (it only averaged .02 million more viewers than UFC on Fox 3), but because it was competing with the Olympics, it was deemed a reasonable success.

UFC on Fox 5 combines all the elements that made previous Fox shows successful: big (but not household) names, explosive style matchups, and a free title fight on network television. With this format, you showcase recognizable faces and consistent performers to the Fox audience while saving the blockbuster names for pay-per-view events. Everybody wins.

The Main Event

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Headlining the card is a title clash between Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz, both of whom have fought on Fox cards before. Benson just finished a two-fight series with Frankie Edgar, where he utilized his ever-improving striking and his powerful grappling to outpoint Edgar twice. Diaz has been on a tear since moving back down to 155lbs last year, destroying Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, and Jim Miller consecutively.

Still, Henderson opened at nearly a 3-1 favorite over Diaz, which may be a little too generous for Benson. “Smooth” fought like a kickboxer in his last two fights, only attempting two takedowns in all ten rounds against “The Answer.” Such a strategy would be ill advised against Diaz, who is much rangier and technically skilled with his hands than the champion. Donald Cerrone, a very technical kickboxer, left his clash with Diaz battered and bloodied after standing and banging for three rounds.

Expect Henderson to utilize a kick-heavy strategy in the standup, using his powerful lower body attacks to keep Diaz off balance. He used this tactic brilliantly in his second fight with Edgar, often sweeping the former champion completely off his feet. He will attack similarly against Nate, whose flat-flooted stance has left him susceptible to low kicks in the past (see: Diaz vs. Cerrone). In punching range, however, Henderson’s winging power shots could get him boxed up by Nate’s laser-accurate counters (see: Diaz vs. Cerrone).

Henderson’s wrestling will be the key to keeping his belt. Rory MacDonald sent Diaz back to Stockton winless by using his wrestling and strength to throw Nate all over the Octagon. Clay Guida, Kim Dong-hyun, and Joe Stevenson all had success against the Cesar Gracie student with similar strategies. It won’t be an easy go for Henderson once it hits the mat, though, because Diaz’s guard is fantastic.

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Diaz is a black belt in jiu jitsu under Cesar Gracie, while Henderson carries a brown belt from John Crouch, a Royce Gracie student. Henderson has shown an almost inhuman ability to escape submissions throughout his career, but you have to give the jiu jitsu edge to Diaz here. Remember, Jim Miller is a black belt and had never been submitted before, and Diaz tapped him with relative ease. The scrambles in this fight are going to be fun to watch.

Diaz’s guillotine is his most dangerous grappling weapon, but it’s also one of Henderson’s favorite techniques. He will be very adept at defending it as a result, but he must take care to set up his takedowns properly; phoning in doubles from too far out may get him caught in a guillotine that even he can’t escape from.

Neither fighter has a clear conditioning edge here, so damage done will determine the fresher fighter in the late rounds. If Nate gets into his boxing groove early, it will be very difficult for Henderson to regroup and get past the pace of Diaz. If the champion is able to throw Nate around in the early going, though, he should be able to stay on top (literally and figuratively) to capture a decision.

Stay tuned for further coverage and updates of the UFC on Fox 5 card.

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