Rivalries: Benson Henderson

By: Brian Knapp
Oct 15, 2021

While there are still a few chapters left to be written in Benson Henderson’s remarkable story, the ink long ago dried on the pages that made him one of the greatest lightweights of all-time.

The former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder will seek to snap a two-fight losing streak when he confronts Brent Primus in a featured Bellator 268 attraction on Saturday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. Henderson, 37, has compiled a 5-5 record across 10 appearances since he joined the Bellator MMA roster in 2016. He last competed at Bellator 253, where he dropped a three-round unanimous decision to the surging Jason Jackson on Nov. 19.

As Henderson pores over the final details associated with his forthcoming battle with Primus, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped shape his career to this point:

Donald Cerrone


It all came together for Henderson in the WEC 43 main event on Oct. 10, 2009, as he captured the interim lightweight championship with a unanimous decision over Cerrone at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. “Smooth” drew 48-47 marks from all three judges in what was later chosen as the Sherdog.com “Fight of the Year” for 2009. Henderson outstruck Cerrone across five breathtaking rounds, executed eight takedowns and successfully defended nine submission attempts from the relentless “Cowboy.” Cerrone threw everything in his arsenal at the MMA Lab export, from omaplatas, triangle chokes and kimuras to armbars and guillotine chokes. Nothing stuck. It was as if Henderson was bulletproof. They have since met on two other occasions—with a submission win at WEC 48 and a decision loss at UFC Fight Night 59, Henderson owns a 2-1 edge in their head-to-head series—but this was their masterpiece.

Anthony Pettis


No one can ever forget the first time Henderson encountered Pettis in the cage. Their historic showdown in the WEC 53 main event on Dec. 16, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona, served as the perfect final chapter for World Extreme Cagefighting, as they fought tooth and nail until the end. Even so, only one man could leave the Jobing.com Arena as the last WEC lightweight champion. Both men landed their share of clean blows and traded submission attempts across 25 memorable minutes. Back and forth they fought into the fifth round, with neither Pettis nor the defending champion establishing a clear advantage on the scorecards. Then it happened. With precious seconds ticking off the clock, Pettis sprang off the cage, kicked Henderson in the face and dropped the MMA Lab standout where he stood. Though the impact failed to knock out “Smooth,” the term “Showtime Kick” entered the mixed martial arts lexicon forever. Pettis went on to win a unanimous decision, earning 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 scores from the judges. Their rematch at UFC 164 two-plus years later also saw the Roufusport star leave the cage with his hand raised, as he submitted Henderson with a first-round armbar to capture the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown.

Frankie Edgar


In a riveting five-round battle that showcased the best and most endearing qualities of both men, Henderson dethroned Edgar and laid claim to the lightweight championship in the UFC 144 headliner on Feb. 26, 2012 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. All three cageside judges scored it for Henderson: 49-46, 48-47 and 49-46. “Smooth” leaned heavily on powerful kicks to the legs and body of the champion. To his credit, Edgar pinned many of them between his arm and torso, but they served their purpose nonetheless. Late in Round 2, Henderson permanently altered the complexion of the 25-minute fight, as he delivered a searing upkick from his back to Edgar’s exposed face. The New Jersey native crumpled where he stood and Henderson leaped into action, seeking his trademark guillotine choke. Edgar avoided further danger, but the damage was done and it was considerable. The third, fourth and fifth rounds unfolded into a beautiful tapestry of skill and will between two of the 155-pound division’s premier fighters. His left eye nearly swollen shut and his nose badly damaged by the upkick, Edgar refused to wilt. However, Henderson landed more strikes of consequence—he outlanded Edgar 87-68 in terms of significant strikes and 100-81 in total strikes—and unleashed his guillotine once more in the fourth round. Again, Edgar freed himself. Henderson was not surprised. Neither champion nor challenger held back in the fifth, as the indomitable Edgar cracked Henderson repeatedly with short, straight punches. Henderson provided his retort late in the frame with a jumping knee and followed the New Jerseyan to the ground in the closing seconds, working for a guillotine one last time before settling for the decision. They met for a second time six months later at UFC 150, where Henderson successfully defended the lightweight title in a contentious split decision.

Gilbert Melendez


Low kicks, standing elbows and the ability to hold his own in wild standup exchanges carried Henderson to a split decision over Melendez, as he retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown in a thrilling UFC on Fox 7 main event on Saturday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. All three cageside judges scored it 48-47: Derek Cleary and Michael Bell for Henderson, Wade Vierra for Melendez. Henderson outlanded the challenger in terms of significant strikes in all five rounds and held the edge in total strikes in every round but the second. The longtime John Crouch protégé did the majority of his damage with step-in standing elbows and kicks to the upper and lower sections of Melendez’s legs. Beaten for just the third time as a professional, Melendez appeared to make his most significant inroads in the first and fifth rounds, where he pressured the champion with thudding right hands and the occasional knee to the body. The loss halted the Santa Ana, California, native’s seven-fight winning streak.

Michael Chandler


The three-time Bellator MMA lightweight champion took out Benson Henderson with punches and moved to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with “Smooth” in the Bellator 243 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Chandler drew the curtain 2:09 into Round 1. Henderson, who lost a split decision to the Sanford MMA star at Bellator 165 in 2016, rolled out of the gate with newfound aggression. He got Chandler’s attention with a pair of thudding body kicks, punched well in combination and scooted out of danger. Still, it all unraveled. Chandler switched stances, floored the MMA Lab cornerstone with a straight left and pounded away with right hands until referee Dan Miragliotta saw fit to intervene.
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