After nearly a month-long hiatus, the UFC returns for UFC 129: St. Pierre vs. Shields, the company’s first event in the Canadian city of Toronto. In addition to the main event between UFC Welterweight Champion and Canadian superstar “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (21-2) and title challenger Jake Shields (26-4-1), the card offers fans a featherweight title bout between “Junior” Jose Aldo (17-1) and “The Machine” Mark Hominick (19-7) as well as the return of “The Natural” Randy Couture (19-10) as he takes on “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (16-2) and a light heavyweight clash between “The Janitor” Vladimir Matyushenko (25-5) and “The Hitman” Jason Brilz (18-3-1). The first Pay-Per-View bout on slate for the fans in Toronto is a promising lightweight affair between a long-time UFC veteran and the former WEC 155lbs. king as Mark Bocek (9-3) takes on “Smooth” Ben Henderson (11-2). The two will collide in a high level version of the classic ground battle between the wrestler and the submission artist as Bocek pits his skills as one of Canada’s first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts against the All-American Wrestling that Henderson has tempered with a brown belt of his own under John Crouch.
At First Glance: The initial impression this fight presents is a bad one for Bocek as he is viewed as a less accomplished fighter of a similar style. While Henderson has held and defended a major divisional title, both men have faced and defeated a similar number of UFC caliber fighters and both men have a very high finishing percentage with only five bouts making it to the judges between them. The result should be a much more even ground battle with a slight edge in positioning going to Henderson and a slight edge in execution going to Bocek. The end result should be a battle that not only gets the crowd amped up for the headlining fights of the night, but a fight that keeps them talking for weeks to come. Henderson has the hype, Bocek has the hometown crowd, and the fans should have one heck of a fast paced ground war.
In Depth: Both Henderson and Bocek have the majority of their accolades coming from the grappling department. In their combined 20 victories, 13 have come via submission with 9 of them coming in the first round. Bocek, however, holds the bulk of those quick finishes as well as a likely advantage on the feet. The fighters garner their stand-up from two very different traditional martial arts, Bocek holding a Kempo black belt and Henderson a Tae Kwon Do black belt. The difference being that Tae Kwon Do has always held a higher emphasis on sporting competition and point fighting where Kempo is a harder, more direct style where competition was almost entirely full-contact for many years. Added to his more natural striking style, Bocek also holds a considerable five-inch reach advantage over Henderson, a fact that will allow him to punish the two-time All-American wrestler from the outside while Henderson looks for the takedown. Bocek also holds a solid advantage in the finishing department over Henderson. While “The Smooth One” has finished most of his opponents, Henderson still has his base in wrestling, which is more about control and positioning than it is about damage or submission. Something that is also a tic in Bocek’s favor is the fact that Henderson has had several issues maintaining control over fighters with little to offer in the wrestling department such as “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone (13-4) and “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (13-1). It stands to reason that an extremely skilled ground fighter like Bocek should be able to easily maneuver his opponent into a fight ending mistake.
Wild Card: The intangibles in this bout are two-fold against Mark Bocek. While Bocek holds an advantage standing on paper, Henderson has shown a more dynamic striking game and has a definitive advantage in athleticism that could allow him to control the action on the feet through sheer physical ability. Henderson is also a wrestler, which means even though Bocek will be more likely to finish things on the ground, Henderson is more likely to be the one in the top position with which the judges seem to equate “effective grappling”. Either of these two factors could be a serious game changer especially in the event of the fight going the distance where Henderson’s ability to get on top on the ground and higher energy stand-up game will make an impression on the judges.
The Verdict: If this fight makes it to the judges, there is a very high probability that Henderson will win it. He has the hype behind him and the style to make him a judges’ sweetheart. The likelihood that this fight will make it the distance with these two finishers is, however, very low. Henderson will likely control the position of the match, but Bocek’s wealth of experience with the intricacies of the submission grappling game will allow him to maneuver Henderson into a fight ending corner after a fast paced and exciting ground war. Bocek via Submission (Triangle Choke), Round 2.