Benson Henderson got down on one knee at the conclusion of the UFC on FOX 7 main event.
It was to propose to his girlfriend, not to say thanks for a split decision over Gilbert Menendez that allowed Henderson to successfully defend his UFC lightweight title at HP Pavilion on Saturday.
“Seriously, my heart was a like a butterfly,” said Henderson, who gave his proposal as boos echoed from the Menendez-friendly crowd. “That was definitely bigger stakes. I was on the fence, going back and forth. Today I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
Just like that proposal, there was no taking back the decision no matter the outcry. The judges scored it 48-47, 47-48, 48-47, for Henderson. The one thing that both fighters and the judges agreed on was that Melendez won the first round of his first UFC fight.
“I knew it was close,” Henderson said. “I thought I lost the first round, but I won the next four.”
Added Melendez: “I took my foot off the gas a little I thought I won the third. Maybe I let off when he got that takedown, maybe.”
That takedown in the third may have been the turning point. All three judges gave Henderson the nod in the third, capped by a late takedown by Henderson that was followed by some combinations.
The first and the third rounds were the only rounds all three judges concurred.
UFC president Dana White announced after the bout that Henderson — who has successfully defended his title three times now — will next fight the winner of T.J. Grant-Gray Maynard bout, which is scheduled for UFC 160 on May 25.
Daniel Cormier, the former US Olympic wrestler who also logged his first UFC fight, grappled and jabbed his way to an easy decision over former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir. Cormier earned a unanimous decision (30-27) on all three cards.
The one thing that Cormier couldn’t beat in his first step inside the Octagon: nerves.
“I’m not happy with my performance,” Cormier said. “I was nervous and I can’t explain why. It must’ve been this big fight feel. I didn’t fight how I wanted. I controlled the fight and I thought I landed some good punches. At the end of the day, I stay undefeated and move forward.”
Already a top-three contender, Cormier certainly made a case to sticking at heavyweight. There’s been talk of him moving down to light heavyweight (205 pounds) to avoid fighting UFC Heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, Cormier’s friend and training partner.
Nate Diaz absorbed one solid kick to the head from Josh Thomson and actually stepped forward. Diaz wasn’t so fortunate as Thomson’s shin found Diaz’s chin in the second round.
The kick fazed Diaz and Thomson took him to the ground, where the fight was stopped with 1:16 left in the second. It was Diaz’s first loss by knockout in 25 career fights.
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Thomson said. “I doubted myself a little bit. I was more nervous for this fight than I was for Gilbert. I thought he posed a lot of problems for me from his ground to his reach.”
It was Thomson’s first UFC fight since 2004, which coincided with the UFC’s elimination of the lightweight division (It was reestablished a couple years later). Thomson went on to fight in Pride, K-1 and Strikeforce.
“I think I deserve a shot at the title, but it’s hard for me to say,” Thomson said. “I was fighting in UFC before it was cool. I started my career here and I’m so happy that I get to finish it here.”
Welterweight Matt Brown pushed Jordan Mein around the Octagon with several strikes early in the first fight on the main card. Brown came close to submitting Jordan Mein at the close of the first round with a combo triangle choke and arm bar.
Mein escaped, but it only delayed a loss a little longer. Brown secured a TKO win a minute into the second round after a flurry of elbows as Mein was trapped alongside the cage.
“I think Jordan’s hype was well deserved,” Brown said. “He hurt me really bad with that body shot. I was really close to being incapacitated and unable to defend myself. I have no idea who I want next, but I think I deserve a fight that would put me in title contention.”
The main card was heavy on talent from the shuttered Strikeforce, the organization based in this building that was purchased by UFC’s parent company, Zuffa. After the final Strikeforce event in January, the outfit’s top talent was brought into the UFC fold.
Melendez, Cormier and Thomson were all Strikeforce staples, as was Ronda Rousey, the UFC women’s bantamweight champ who watched the action in the front row.