Lightweight title unified
Postfight report by Andreas Hale
Photos courtesy of Josh Hodges, WEC
And then there was one…
Benson Henderson proved himself to be the only champion in the World Extreme Cagefighting’s lightweight division as he unified the titles with a dramatic submission victory over Jamie Varner in the main event of WEC 46 at the Arco Arena in Sacramento.
The ending came suddenly in the third frame after the first two rounds went by relatively uneventful. Both fighters couldn’t manage much offense early as they fought to a stalemate and neither gained a decisive upper hand. Midway through the third round, Varner would rush in for one of his vicious trademark slams but left his neck available for Henderson to latch on to - and latch on he did. Before Varner could get “Smooth” to the mat, Henderson sunk the choke in deep and forced Varner to tap out at 2:41.
With the victory, Henderson becomes the undisputed king of the 155 lbs weight division and has a long line of competition to look at.
“I’m going to remain the same,” Henderson said after the bout. “I’m getting right back to training. I know there are a lot of hungry guys that are going to come gunning for me.”
With the frontrunner likely to be Donald Cerrone, Henderson knows that a second dance with “The Cowboy” may be inevitable. But on this night, the glory belonged only to him as the only champion of the lightweight division.
“I thought the fight was going pretty much as planned,” Henderson said about a game plan that initially made the 10,027 inside of the Arco Arena restless at the lack of action before the sudden finish. “We knew Jamie was going to come at us like gangbusters and go for broke. He was pretty anxious to get in there and lay his hands on me so we just wanted to get him frustrated a little bit in the first couple of rounds and then pick up (the pace). It went according to plan.”
Varner appeared to be frustrated during the bout as Henderson locked him up when the two got close and kept him at bay with body kicks. He confirmed his frustrations at the post fight conference.
“I thought I was winning,” Varner said. “I was definitely pushing the pace. I like to go forward. I heard he got a new boxing coach. I was expecting him to come in there and trade punches with me but that wasn’t the game plan.”
Varner didn’t show any signs of ring rust after an 11-month layoff. He admits that he felt sharp but simply got caught.
“Ben’s got a good guillotine,” Varner said when asked about the sudden finish. “I’ve heard about it before. It was underneath my chin. It was in and I knew as soon it hit. I couldn’t fight the hands. I started going out and I was done. He had it in.”
WEC general manager Reed Harris wouldn’t confirm Henderson’s next opponent but admitted that “it makes sense” to put Cerrone and Henderson back in the cage after their five round war left fans begging for more. As for Varner, the future isn’t so definitive.
“I’ve got so many emotions going through my head and it has been a long time since I lost,” Varner said when discussing the future. “The last time I lost was to Hermes (Franca) and it made me a much better fighter. I don’t know where to go. It’s up to the WEC. I need to go home and work on some stuff, fix up my game and get better.”
“The California Kid” Urijah Faber also made an emphatic return to the WEC after having both of his hands surgically repaired as he earned a hard fought submission victory over Raphael Assencao. With the Arco Arena going insane the moment that Tupac’s “California Love” signaled Faber’s entrance, “The Kid” knew that he couldn’t let his hometown fans down and put together a performance that earned him a $10,000 “Submission of the Night” bonus and put him in line for a showdown with featherweight champion Jose Aldo later this year.
It was the Urijah Faber of old in the cage - lightening fast reflexes, impressive wrestling and a memorable finish that left fans ecstatic. The once beaten Assencao was certainly no “gimme” on this night as he gave Faber all he could handle for three rounds. Late in the third round, Faber clipped the Brazilian with a sneaky right hand that dropped Assencao and Faber would then work his way to the back and sink in a tight rear naked choke that forced Assencao to tap out at 3:49.
“My hands feel great,” Faber said about his return to the cage. “It didn’t bother me at all. I wasn’t hesitant at all and I felt I could put more power in my punch. Yeah, it was good.”
As good as Faber is, many did not anticipate a submission victory against a tough Assencao. Faber wanted to remind people that his jiu jitsu is nothing to balk at and he is all around a dangerous fighter.
“I’m a very good submissions guy,” Faber said with a broad smile. “I’ve gone against black belts on all different levels. I’ve put in my time of 6 years doing jiu jitsu in addition to my wrestling. I knew he was tough and I don’t think he overlooked my jiu jitsu but when you are dealing with guys that have dangerous weapons, there’s the ability to get caught in there. I was able to capitalize.”
Faber’s next fight will be a featherweight title clash with champion Jose Aldo - who dispatched of former champion and two-time Faber conqueror Mike Brown with relative ease a few months back. With Faber’s successful return, “The Kid” is looking to get back to work quickly and reclaim what he feels is rightfully his.
“I’m hoping that it will be fairly quick,” Faber said when asked how soon he would like to get in the cage with featherweight champion Jose Aldo. “I didn’t take any injuries and I had a long layoff with my hands. He’s an exciting fighter. (The fight) kind of reminds me of the Randy Couture/Vitor Belfor - The phenom with the hands and the crafty veteran. It’s funny that I’m the veteran at this point but I’m looking forward to a knock down, drag out fight. Hopefully it happens soon.”
A match up with the undefeated Jose Aldo is mouth watering to fight fans across the globe. For Reed Harris, it could also be a sign that the WEC is ready for pay per view.
“As we move towards (pay per view), Aldo Vs Faber would be a great pay per view and the fans would pay to see that,” Harris explained. “The other thing we need to look it is that we need to have more than one good fight on that card. We want to put together a card where people are basically saying that they cannot miss it.”
Henderson Vs Cerrone for the lightweight title perhaps?
“Maybe,” Harris said with a smile.
“I just want front row seats,” former featherweight champion Mike Brown said.
We do too.