Despite a tough stylistic challenge and stanch home-court advantage for his opponent, Benson Henderson once against defended his UFC title by a razor-thin margin.
But was the champion fighting more than just Gilbert Melendez?
According to Julius Henderson, Benson's brother, there was a potentially corrupt judge in San Jose scoring the main event at UFC on Fox 7—Wade Vierra.
As Julius noted (via Twitter) in the aftermath of Bendo's title defense, Vierra is "an affiliate student" connected with GracieFighter, the very same team run by Cesar Gracie—mentor to Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz, as well as Melendez.
The Judge who went against Ben is a Cesar Gracie affiliate student, how did he get picked to judge? — Julius Henderson (@Simply1Julius) April 21, 2013
Vierra's link to Melendez is more evident due to his LinkedIn profile.
In addition to 30 years of experience as a "Master Instructor" for MMA GracieFighter, Vierra also lists his most recent job (since June 2012) as an MMA judge for the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC).
Currently, Vierra lists himself as an active employee for both positions.
Folsom- Join WADE VIERRA and GRACIE FIGHT TEAM. Sacramento's only CESAR GRACIE AFFILIATEACADEMY. 1st Class FREE!! (916)642-3638 — MMA GRACIE FIGHTER (@MMAGRACIEFIGHTR) May 5, 2010
Although Melendez often fights out of his own self-built camp at the El Nino Training Center in San Francisco, the former Strikeforce lightweight champion is also a noted student of Gracie, and hence, a team associate of Vierra's.
Moreover, "El Nino" has also represented GracieFighter as part of the "Scrap Pack" gang, comprised of himself, the Diaz brothers and fellow Strikeforce veteran Jake Shields—all of whom have now gone 0-5 in UFC title fights.
It's unknown whether Vierra and Melendez actively train or work together now, but the conflict of interest for Vierra seems blatant.
Even if Melendez and Cesar Gracie were unaware of the connection, the CSAC either didn't look too deeply in Vierra's background, or determined that there were enough degrees of separation from himself and Melendez that it was fair to have him judge the bout.
But regardless of Vierra's 48-47 card for Melendez (via MMA Decisions), both of the two other CSAC judges—Michael Bell and Derek Cleary—scored the bout for Henderson.
Despite the controversy in the aftermath, UFC on Fox 7 marks Melendez's first defeat since 2008 and Henderson's third consecutive defense of the UFC Lightweight Championship—a record that he now shares with Frankie Edgar and retired two-division title holder B.J. Penn.