From the outside looking in, I believe the game plan for Jamie Varner was to use his striking to land power shots, thus setting up his takedowns so he could score with ground-n-pound. I think Henderson’s game plan was to fight at long range and make Varner take bad shots, extending the fight to rounds 4 and 5.
The striking and wrestling advantage went to Varner. The ground and conditioning edge went to Henderson. (Henderson also has really nice hair).
Round one played out as expected. Varner looked to exchange more while Henderson was content to stay relaxed and play the range game. Varner worked his way into the clinch and scored a nice takedown. Henderson was able to bring the fight back up to his feet without much damage. This was a close round, but Varner took it 10–9.
As a coach, I would describe round two as methodical. As a fan, I would call it boring—two explosive athletes unwilling to engage. Where was the counter punching? Where were the combos? This round was a draw.
Round three showed what a fine line fighters walk in MMA. Varner made a careless mistake by leaving his head on the outside of his double leg, and Henderson locked on a tight arm-in guillotine. Varner tapped seconds later. Could Varner have slammed his way out? I doubt it.
Post Fight Fodder
Varner looked uncomfortable with Henderson’s length and kicking. I do not believe ring rust or injuries factored into Varner’s performance, but it may have in the later rounds.
The top 155-pounders in the WEC—Henderson, Varner, and Donald Cerrone—are separated by a fraction. Any of them could win on a given night. In addition, 155-pounders Kamal Shalorus and Karen Darabedyan are both tough dudes. I would love to see them fight.
The WEC always delivers.
“This fight was purely about discipline. Varner didn’t have it. Henderson did. Varner said he came to “fight,” but got caught taking a shot. Varner went away from his game plan, while Henderson was patient enough to wait for an opening that he could exploit.”—Matt Pena, MMA boxing coach
“I think Henderson did a good job of getting Varner frustrated by kicking and looking to take him down when the opportunity opened up. It forced Varner to change his tactics and go for a takedown himself. Varner is a great fighter, but like too many of today’s fighters, he wanted only to stand up and trade punches. Henderson, on the other hand, wanted to win by any means necessary. I think in the MMA game today, too many fighters ignore the ground game in favor of trying to be crowd-pleasers.”—Jeremy Horn, MMA legend