Benson Henderson is one of the most polarizing individuals in the UFC’s lightweight division. The former champion seems to garner more hatred every time he steps into the cage. After suffering his second defeat eight days before the one-year anniversary of losing the belt to Anthony Pettis, one must wonder what is next for the man simply known as “Smooth.”
Henderson’s defeat at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos has pushed him down to No. 4 in the UFC’s official rankings. Unfortunately for Henderson, he might as well hold a ranking spot that is well out of the Top 10, because that defeat at UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. dos Anjos has completely knocked him out of the immediate title picture. Names such as Donald Cerrone, Eddie Alvarez and Bobby Green can quickly leapfrog him if they put together an impressive performance before the end of 2014. So what does this mean for Henderson, and will he lose his motivation for the sport? Hopefully the answer is no.
When looking at this question the first step is to review Henderson’s comments about his plans to walk away from the sport of MMA. In a 2013 interview with Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting, the former champion discussed his thoughts on retirement.
“By the time I hit 33 I intend on retiring. I’m done after that,” Henderson told Helwani during the conversation. “Fighting is hard, fighting is tough. You get beat up in the body. It’s hard; it takes a toll on your body.”
Henderson made those comments in April 2013 before he was able to defeat Gilbert Melendez for his third defense of the title. His fortunes have not been so great since that interview, and now he finds himself in a perplexing position within the lightweight division. However, that does not mean he should lose his motivation for both this weight class and beyond.
First, if Henderson can put together a string of 3-4 wins within the next year, he may find himself in a position in which the UFC will need him. Henderson has a track record of staying pretty active in the cage, and that can play to his advantage. Recent developments have seen the UFC deal with injury issues in multiple main events in 2014.
If Benson can win some bouts and do so in a highlight-reel fashion, he can place himself on the short list of fighters the UFC calls if it needs a late replacement. He isn’t really in the position to turn down any opportunities that may come via injury as this may be the only route for him to leap to the top of the lightweight heap.
The second option for Henderson is a potential move to welterweight. This conversation is not a new talking point in reference to the former title holder. Comments dating back to 2011 have referenced Henderson moving up to 170 pounds. An interview with Geno Mrosko of Bloody Elbow revealed that Benson has made preparations to make the eventual move.
“As I get older, I eat healthier, try to eat the right things, make all these little sacrifices that it takes to be a champion,” Henderson said to Mrosko. “Hopefully, eventually my technique catches up where I can hang with guys that are freaking 20 pounds heavier than me, and use more of my speed when they are bigger and slower, and my technique makes up for them being stronger than me.”
These are two very interesting opportunities that await Henderson when he does return to fighting. While he may not have been the most popular of fighters and earned some heat for controversial wins, the truth remains that he is a very tough foil for any athlete placed opposite the Octagon. Whatever Henderson decides to do going forward will be worth watching out for by anyone who could be an eventual opponent.
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