Why That Ben Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone Fight Was a Bad Idea

Last Saturday’s Benson Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone bout seemed like a great idea.

Sure there was some letdown when it was revealed that Henderson’s originally scheduled opponent, Eddie Alvarez, had to cancel due to injury.

But the disappointment disappeared just a few days later as it was revealed Donald Cerrone had stepped in and accepted the fight. Actually, many found the ‘replacement’ an improvement.

Now we had another of MMA’s “action stars” to fight Henderson –but this one, unlike Alvarez, is on a tear. Cerrone had won six straight bouts, with almost every bout going to a finish.

There’s a lot of frustration about apathy in today’s MMA climate, and fans not knowing who to care about. But it’s safe to say fans know who “Cowboy” Cerrone is.

He’s got some of the best and most aggressive Muay Thai in MMA, but beats excellent grapplers by submission. How aggressive? He’s the guy who ended a bout throwing wild kicks – what he would call “F— You Kicks” — in frustration, as he struggled to finish his last opponent. Even when he’s in a slow bout, he ends up in one of that event’s most memorable moments. That’s Cerrone.

He’s the guy some observers dubbed 2014 “Fighter of the Year” despite not even participating in a title bout.

Here, he was so frustrated by his last bout that he wanted to step back in the Octagon right away, even if against a top contender in former champ Benson Henderson with less than two weeks between bouts.

Need any more reasons to watch? Well, Henderson had beaten Cerrone twice before. This time though, he’s coming off a loss and looking to get back into the championship mix.

What a recipe for a great bout.

Except… somehow, it didn’t work out that way.

Cerrone and Henderson exchanged strikes, appearing somewhat half-hearted, throughout the fight’s three rounds, with little to separate them — but Henderson’s leg kicks seemed the most consistent strike to land. Cerrone scored the bouts only takedowns, which led nowhere — as Henderson popped back up within seconds each time.

It was kind of a lousy fight, and kind of a lousy decision besides — as Cerrone earned the judges’ nod despite apparently being out-struck in a bout with no significant grappling exchanges.

What happened?

Maybe Cerrone’s (understandable) exhaustion came into play. Maybe their friendship kept them from committing to strikes. Maybe Henderson’s apparent plan to try and exhibit standup skills against a Muay Thai standout led to the tepid nature of the bout.

Somehow, it seemingly didn’t do much for Cerrone. Sure he can go tit-for-tat with another elite MMA fighter, in what seems like a sparring session, even on an off-day. I think we knew that going in.

Maybe it’s significant that in a Muay Thai bout in Bangkok, all this would be no big deal. Fighters are switched, end up having a disappointing bout (where they receive an odd judges’ decision), and then fight again a few weeks later.  A loss here and there isn’t terribly meaningful, and neither are titles, really.
But, as evidenced by Henderson’s emotional reaction after the decision was announced, that’s not the MMA world we’re in.

This result was actually damaging to his career.

Henderson’s instructor John Crouch made the point to ESPN today — albeit using the example of American football.

“The problem is that it’s not like football,” Crouch said. “What were the Seattle Seahawks earlier this year, 6-4? Everybody said they were terrible and they’d never make the Super Bowl. You don’t get that chance in MMA. And now, with the Reebok [UFC partnership], Ben loses this split decision so he’s not ranked No. 5 anymore. He’s ranked No. 7. Well, his money just dropped from that. His next fight, his money just dropped and it’s not a decision people agree on. If somebody thought he lost the fight that’s their right, but these decisions are so important and I’m sorry to get long-winded but the fighters don’t make any damn money as it is. Five people make good money. Ben was a world champion and he didn’t make real good money. He made good money, but not the kind of money you’d think he’d make for being the best in the world at what you do, in a business that’s making billions of dollars.”

“Fighters have to take the Reebok deal, right?” Crouch asks. “There’s no choice. That’s not fair. That kind of thing should go through a player’s representative. That doesn’t happen in our sport. If you don’t like it, then don’t fight in the UFC. Well, come on. Where are fighters supposed to go?”

It seemed we all had much to gain by this match, but as it turns out, there was a lot to lose.

And, that’s what happened.

Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. On paper, it seemed a great fight. But it was just a bad idea.