“I was sitting at a Korean BBQ and they said, ‘You’ve got one week to make weight.’”
All fighters have their own story of getting that first call to the UFC, and Victor Henry’s sounds particularly agonizing. Did he have to quit eating in the middle of an epic meal?
“Oh no, I finished it,” he says firmly. “Mama didn’t raise no sissy.”
Most certainly, she did not. At age 34 and with 26 professional fights already under his BJJ black belt, Henry enters his UFC debut at this Saturday’s UFC 270 event with a confident ease that comes solely from his level of experience.
“The UFC is the pinnacle of the sport. I always knew that someday I would get there. But I knew that my road is different than other people’s. There’s some people that come in here with a 4-0 record, there’s some that come in with my record (21-5). I wanted to make sure I was ready when I got here that I could make a statement. I didn’t want to be here just as some prospect. I wanted to come in here and actually make some noise. It took me 26 fights to do it, but I’m here now and that’s what counts.”
On one hand, it’s the road less traveled. On the other, there was quite a lot of traveling to shine in promotions like Pancrase, Deep and Rizin, among others.
“I’ve been around the world. Japan, Dubai, Thailand. I’ve trained a lot of places, I’ve fought in a lot of places. I’ve been here, there and everywhere. I’ve got a wealth of experience and I’m looking to put it all towards my debut.”
His mentor, former heavyweight champ Josh Barnett, knows a thing or two about UFC debuts, and his tutelage has helped Henry become ready to meet the moment. We’ve all seen Barnett the fighter, but how about Barnett the coach?
“It’s funny because Josh over in Japan has a nickname 'Oni-coach' which is like ‘demon coach’ or ‘devil coach.’ He’s very…how do I put this? Very matter of fact. If your hand is not working or your shoulder is messed up, he won’t pull you out of the round. He’ll be like ‘Work around it. These are the realities of a fight; these are things that are going to happen.’ I remember one time I had a fight and I was doing some preparation work. I got kicked in the balls three or four times in the middle of the round and he says, ‘I don’t care! Keep fighting!’ After the round, sure enough, he goes ‘Why are you tired?” I said, ‘I don’t know, maybe getting kicked in the pills four times had something to do with it.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t care. Go.’ He has a very different way of training people. He expects [opponents] to cheat. He expects all that, so he trains me against it.”
The result is a style Henry self-describes as “Annoying.” He laughs, but he means what he says.
“It really fits the nickname my coach gave me: ‘La Mangosta’—it’s ‘The Mongoose’—I get in there and I just pick and pick and pick and pick. Eventually I’ll find my kill-shot, whether it be a sub or a knockout or a TKO or whatever. But I’ll just be in there and pick and pick and pick until somebody is just sick of it. Once I see them break mentally, then I go for it.”
Annoying or not, it’s a style that works the vast majority of the time. His record is filled with all variety of finishes, and he holds victories over current UFC standout Kyler Phillips and former UFC bantamweight Albert Morales.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time in a lot of places. Cardio is certainly a big piece of my game. I also have unexpected power. I’m not Francis Ngannou, I’ve got these little skinny arms, but they pack some punch. People can expect anything from me.”
He may need to run through his whole bag of tricks for Saturday’s contest, having drawn Brazilian slayer Raoni Barcelos for his promotional bow. It’s a testament to the faith that UFC matchmakers have in Henry’s skills, but it’s still a monster of an entrance exam.
“No matter how long the training camp is, it’s going to be a tough fight,” he agrees. “This could go anywhere.“
Henry loves the matchup, though. It was originally slated to happen last December, and he’s delighted that it stayed intact after it fell through the first time. He loves the challenge, and he loves where it puts him in the bantamweight race if he can get his hand raised. To that end, his plan is a simple one.
“Be annoying,” he smiles. “I’m going to go in there and I’m going to really show that all my hard work for all these years has paid dividends.”
Don't miss a single strike of the first pay-per-view of 2022 at UFC 270: Ngannou vs Gane, live from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Main card begins at 10pm ET/7pm PT.
UFC 270: Ngannou vs Gane took place on Saturday, January 22, 2022, live from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.