Capture a World Extreme Cagefighting title? Check. Capture an Ultimate Fighting Championship title? Check. Capture a Bellator MMA title? The status of that goal is to be determined.
Benson Henderson was within reach of an MMA triple crown in April, but very little went smoothly in his promotional debut against then-welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 153. Koreshkov dominated the MMA Lab star across five rounds to earn a unanimous decision and easily retain his championship. Henderson attributed his poor performance to a number of factors. Koreshkov’s size and strength gave “Smooth” fits, but Henderson admits he did not adjust well to a new environment while fighting outside the UFC for the first time since 2010.
“I don’t know if there’s anything that I learned from the last title fight,” Henderson said during a pre-fight media call to promote his forthcoming clash with lightweight champion Michael Chandler in the Bellator 165 main event on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. “Just being comfortable inside the Bellator cage and getting used to the walkout and finding my rhythm [is what I needed].”
After losing to Koreshkov, Henderson rebounded with a victory over former Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire in August. However, the win was anticlimactic, as the Brazilian sustained a fight-ending leg injury in the second round of their Bellator 160 pairing. At 33, Henderson remains driven to succeed, no matter the stakes.
“I would say that there’s not a whole lot of extra motivation this fight,” he said. “I’m a pretty highly self-motivated individual. I want to win all of my fights. I don’t need any extra incentives. I want to have my hand raised in every single fight.”
Henderson has his work cut out for him if he wants to become the first fighter to ever win championships in the WEC, UFC and Bellator. Chandler has returned to form following a three-fight losing streak, his resurgence buoyed by back-to-back-to-back victories over Derek Campos, David Rickels and Patricky Freire. His sensational first-round knockout on Freire at Bellator 157 brought with it the vacant lightweight championship. Henderson finds motivation beyond the title.
“I’m going to go get this belt at 155 pounds, but after that, I wouldn’t say that belts offer a whole lot of extra incentive,” he said. “Obviously, belts are great and the meaning behind the belt is that you are the best on the planet -- and that means a lot to say that you are the best at that weight class -- but I don’t fight necessarily just for the belt. You do want the belt, but right now all I’m concentrating on is [Bellator 165] and a man named Michael Chandler.”
Henderson and Chandler have been involved in some of the most memorable lightweight fights in MMA history, so it should come as little surprise that their showdown has become one of the more ballyhooed Bellator bouts of 2016. Henderson has put himself the rigors of training but plans to take a wait-and-see approach with his opponent.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “It’s hard to dictate and say exactly what I’m going to do. If I was an NFL coach, I would not be one of those coaches that has the first 15 plays of the game scripted out and, no matter what happens, we’re sticking to these 15 plays. For me, I have to feel it out and go with the flow. For me, I don’t think this is going to be a slow-paced fight. I’m expecting this to be one of the most high-paced, action-packed fights you’ve seen in the Bellator cage.”
Though Henderson was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Koreshkov, he has not closed the door on the idea of competing at 170 pounds again.
“I wouldn’t say that I think of myself as a lightweight necessarily,” said Henderson, his stellar resume highlighted by victories over Donald Cerrone (twice), Frankie Edgar (twice), Gilbert Melendez and Nate Diaz. “For me, it’s 155 pounds or 170 pounds, just wherever the more interesting and fun matchups are; but first things first: I have to take care of business on Saturday night.”