"You want all your weeks, and months, and years of preparation to lead up to having one great performance on one night." - Benson Henderson
Contrary to popular belief, there is no secret formula to Benson Henderson’s otherworldly ability to take punches that would drop lesser men or survive submission attempts that would force 99% of his peers to tap out. Simply put, what it comes down to is getting beat up nearly every day for years.
And just to confirm, how long has the number one lightweight contender been getting beat up?
“Every day,” he said. “That’s part of training. Every single day. I got some tough as crap training partners who are some of the best in the world; people just don’t realize it yet because they haven’t got their shot in the UFC. I’ve got guys at my gym right now that will give Jose Aldo a run for his money first fight in the UFC. I’ve got some guys at 155 that I’d put up against just about anybody in the UFC right now and they’d hold their own.”
Don’t be surprised. And not just by his willingness to admit that he’s not “the guy” handing out the punishment at The Lab in Glendale, Arizona. Being humble and more apt to praise teammates like Chris Gruetzemacher and Yaotzin Meza than himself is just his personality, and that egoless approach to life is what has earned him a WEC championship at 155 pounds and now a shot at the biggest prize in his division: the UFC belt currently held by Frankie Edgar.
“You just can’t be that way in wrestling, or in combative sports, period, and have long-term success,” said Henderson of the notion that you have to be the toughest guy in the practice room all day every day to succeed. “You gotta get beat up. That’s how you get tougher. When I was in (Dana) College, I got the crap kicked out of me literally every single day in practice my freshman year. I left the practice room in tears every day. I am the man I am today and I’m fighting for the UFC belt today because of that. You just can’t be the best guy in the room all the time, kicking everybody’s butt. You can’t do that and be successful, and you can’t continue to grow. You have to continually get pushed.”
You do that, and then when fight night comes, you’re prepared to push back, and few have done it better over the last few years than the 28-year old Arizonan. From the time he made his debut in the WEC in 2009 with a submission win over Anthony Njokuani, Henderson has produced that rare mix of winning fights and exciting fights, as he’s been a part of instant classics with Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Clay Guida, en route to a WEC title and 3-0 UFC record. But the finish line is not in view yet for “Smooth,” whose only goal is greatness, a task he believes will begin Saturday night in Saitama Super Arena in the main event of UFC 144.
“Frankie’s tough, he’s a great fighter, he’s beaten the greatest lightweight fighter of all-time (BJ Penn), and he beat him twice,” said Henderson of the champion from Toms River, New Jersey. “He has a great chin, he has a great heart, he’s proven himself to be a great champion, and he’s a great all-around guy. What can you not say about the guy? It’s gonna be fun to dance against him. For me to be where I want to be, which is to be the greatest lightweight fighter of all-time, I can’t get there unless I beat the great lightweight fighters out there.”
On paper, this five rounder has the potential to meet, or even surpass, the memorable scraps both Henderson and Edgar have already donated to mixed martial arts’ 155-pound archives, and even though there is the added variable of this fight being halfway around the world in Japan, Edgar’s experience in long-distance fights (he won the title in Abu Dhabi) could be negated by the fact that Henderson is no stranger to the five round championship distance, which he has gone twice before. In a fight as evenly matched as this one, every little advantage could be a major one.
“Speaking objectively, I wouldn’t say it evens things out, but I have been there before,” said Henderson. “It’s not a new experience for me. It’s not like ‘oh my goodness, what do we do here?’ I have plenty of five round fights under my belt, I’ve been the distance, been rocked, survived, been caught in some bad places, survived, so I think it just adds to the experience level. A lot of guys didn’t realize I had as much experience under Zuffa that I did, and more experience than the guys I was fighting when I came over to the UFC. So it’s definitely a factor and I want to use that to my advantage against Frankie as much as possible.”
When it comes down to it, Henderson isn’t asking for any favors though. He’s not expecting an easy fight, an easy weight cut, or a (pardon the pun) smooth ride to a world championship. He’s been around this game long enough to know that nothing comes easy. So his focus shifts from expectation to hope, hope that all the work he’s done, that all the blood, sweat, and tears he’s shed, and all the beatings he’s taken in the gym will have gotten him ready for the biggest fight of his life. He knows he’s ready; now it’s just a waiting game until Saturday night.
“We don’t live in a perfect world,” said Henderson. “Not everything’s gonna be the exact way you want it to be. So you just do the best you can, deal with everything as it comes, and hopefully you have one great performance on one given night. That’s all you really want. You want all your weeks, and months, and years of preparation to lead up to having one great performance on one night. I need that night to be this one against Frankie Edgar.”