San Jose, Calif. — It was a fight Benson Henderson was supposed to win, and he didn’t disappoint. But it wasn’t easy in the slightest for the current UFC lightweight champion of the world.
In fact, a huge portion of the sold-out crowd at San Jose’s HP Pavilion booed the decision for several minutes after Bruce Buffer announced Henderson won by split decision after five, five-minute rounds Saturday night against top-contender Gilbert Melendez.
Henderson won 48-47 on two of the judges’ cards, while Melendez won 48-47 on the other card in the main event of the UFC on FOX 7 nationally-televised broadcast.
“I know how tough Gilbert is and how tough all those guys are,” Henderson said over the boos from the HP Pavilion crowd. “They bring it every single time.”
The boos actually subsided a little bit from the crowd after Henderson earned his second victory of the night when he got down on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Maria Magana, who accepted in front of the national television audience.
“There’s a lot more important things than fighting," Henderson said. “Take care of other things that were important. Today, I decided to do it. Go through with it. Manned up and did it.”
Henderson, a 2001 Decatur High School graduate, is the only fighter to ever headline a non-pay-per-view card. He also defended his 155-pound title on the UFC on Fox 5 card inside Seattle’s KeyArena.
Saturday night’s fight with Melendez came down to the fifth and final round. When the final buzzer sounded, both fighters raised their hands in the air thinking they were the ultimate UFC champion. Both Henderson and Melendez did some damage throughout the 25-minute fight.
"I knew it was close," Henderson said. "He won the first round and I thought I won the next four. It is what it is. I thought he did a great job of dictating going forward and making me back up. After the first round, I thought I did a better job of going forward."
“After the fight, some people had it a draw, some people had Ben winning,” UFC President Dana White said. “All of his fights go to decisions and controversial decisions. It was a Ben Henderson fight.”
“I thought I won the first two (rounds) and the fifth for sure,” Melendez said. “I thought it was going to come down to the last round and I thought I won the fifth round.”
Melendez dominated the first two rounds, taking down Henderson twice in the first and connecting on a flurry of leg kicks while the crowd chanted “Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert…”
The second round ended with the two fighters exchanging punches in the middle of the ring and Melendez getting the better of it.
But things changed in the third round. Henderson nailed Melendez with a huge leg kick, which resulted in quick knockdown. Henderson also scored a takedown onto the side of the cage and later connected with a left elbow. Henderson landed a big leg kick during the last 10 seconds of the third round and jumped on top of Melendez and hit him with several hammer fists as the bell rang.
“I took my foot off the gas a little in the middle,” Melendez admitted. “But I totally felt I turned it up in the fifth.”
Henderson continued to push the pace in the fourth round and connected on another leg kick midway, which dropped Melendez to the ground.
Melendez, 31, entered the match with an impressive 21-2 record during his MMA career and was the final Strikeforce (a rival MMA organization) lightweight title holder, where he spent the last seven years of his career. Contractual champion clauses with the rival MMA organization kept him from making his long-awaited UFC debut until Saturday night against Henderson.
Henderson is unbeaten since coming over from World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in 2011, winning all seven of his UFC fights. It’s the longest active streak among UFC lightweights and the second longest winning streak in UFC history.
It was also the seventh-straight UFC fight that ended in a decision. Henderson’s fights during his UFC career average more than 20 minutes, the longest average fight time in UFC history.
Henderson, 29, began his wrestling career during his time at Lakota Middle School and continued wrestling at Decatur. He went on to wrestle at Dana College in Nebraska and started MMA fighting a year after a dare from a couple of wrestlers.