Henderson edges Thomson in thriller
Josh Thomson would have fought for the UFC lightweight title in 2013, were it not for a knee injury suffered by current champion Anthony Pettis. A controversial decision in Chicago might prevent him from fighting for it in 2014.
Thomson (20-6) surrendered his place in the lightweight division on Saturday in a split decision, five-round loss to former champion Benson Henderson at United Center.
Judges Sal D'Amato and Brian Puccillo scored it 49-46 and 48-47 respectively for Henderson, while Gabriel Sabaitis saw it 48-47 for Thomson. ESPN scored the bout 48-47 Thomson.
"Another close win, but I'll take them any way I can get them," Henderson said. "I thought it was a pretty controlling fight for myself. I made a few mistakes, but I don't think he did any damage and I didn't lose control.
"I made some mistakes and ended on my back a few times, but I thought the 'W' was clear."
Adding injury to insult, Thomson was heard on the broadcast telling his corner he thought his right hand was broken after the second round. As the final scores were read, Thomson shook his head in disbelief before exiting quickly.
Henderson (20-3) relied on pressure throughout, walking Thomson down and opening up offensively in later rounds. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt struggled during grappling exchanges, however, conceding his back several times.
Within the first minute of the fight Thomson had taken Henderson's back and secured a body triangle after ducking under a right hand. He worked patiently for the rear-naked choke, before Henderson eventually stood and shrugged him off.
A similar battle played out in the second round, as Thomson once again locked in the body triangle off a scramble. Henderson escaped quicker the second time and responded with elbows, but it appeared to be Thomson's round.
Thomson's hand injury was evident in the third, as Henderson started to land with body kicks and win out important position battles. He scored points late in the round with elbows from side control.
Thomson, however, would respond in the fourth. Just when it appeared momentum was clearly in Henderson's corner, Thomson scored two key takedowns and again took his opponent's back.
The fifth was less conclusive, as Thomson took his foot off the gas but still limited Henderson's offense. He absorbed several more body kicks and elbows along the fence, but responded with a flurry of his own to push Henderson back.
Afterward, Thomson said he felt satisfied with his performance.
"The plan was simple: win," Thomson said. "I could not, but that doesn't mean I failed. It is what it is.
"We know that's the risk when you leave to the judges' decision. But, I'm satisfied with my performance. It was a great fight. The fans know it. They will remember this night for a long time."
Henderson has a knack for pulling out close decisions. He defended the 155-pound belt three times from 2012 to 2013, twice via split decision. The win improves his UFC record to 8-1.
Thomson, who fights out of San Jose, California, falls to 3-2 overall in the UFC.
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Brett Okamoto is a UFC columnist for ESPN.com