Victor Henry might have finally secured a UFC win in his 27th professional fight, but the mixed martial arts veteran hasn’t found the milestone changing his life all that much so far. After his win over Raoni Barcelos in Anaheim at UFC 270, the Los Angeles-resident ate a “nice, big pizza” and went back to his regular job serving drinks. In fact, he said the victory has only made his life a bit harder back in the gym under the direction of Josh Barnett.
“My training partners give me a lot of guff because, 'Oh, you’re in the UFC now? All right. Let’s try it,’” Henry told UFC.com. “The gym that I'm at, you have to really solidify your spot. But also because everybody's just always trying to get you. And I don't know what it is about me. People just hate me for whatever reason. They just always want to get me.”
It’s hard to blame the other people on the mat. Henry acquitted himself to the mixed martial arts leader nicely, fighting with poise and control en route to a decision win.
Henry’s pace and cardio fueled him to the clean sweep on the judge’s scorecards. In the fight, Henry landed 181 significant strikes, which set a bantamweight record for most in a UFC debut. That, plus winning a fight in his virtual backyard, has moved Henry into a sort of public limbo he isn’t accustomed to just yet.
“I grew up in a not so nice area, so every time somebody is like, ‘Hey, Victor,’ I was like, ‘Do I owe you money? Who are you?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, I saw you fight.’ ‘Oh, OK. Cool. It’s nice to meet you. Whatever your name is,’” Henry said. “There's been a lot of that. The anonymity of things is fun for now and I appreciate the anonymity of things, but I also do appreciate that people recognize me for my body of work in fighting, especially after my last fight. I mean, setting a record for my first fight was legit. It's fun having both sides of it for right now.”
“La Mangosta” gets another opportunity to raise his profile and rise up the bantamweight ladder quickly with his scheduled matchup against perennial Top 10 presence Rafael Assunção. Although Henry hasn’t faced the Brazilian himself, he has watched the veteran since Assunção’s days under the WEC banner.
Henry has some familiarity with Assunção, as well, drawing on his days training with Pedro Munhoz. When he saw Munhoz make his UFC debut against Assunção in 2014, he started to understand the levels he’d have to reach if he wanted to fight the best in the Octagon. Now with a chance to fight Assunção himself, Henry is weary of putting himself in any sort of position in which Assunção could shine.
“I don't want to test myself against him at all,” Henry said. “I want to go in there, and I want to just get a decisive win. I don't want to make this fight harder than it needs to be, but with a guy with so much experience, and he's got a black belt in jiu-jitsu, he can wrestle, he’s got power in his hands. He hasn't gotten a knockout here in a while, but I don't want to be the first, so with his experience, with his time in the Octagon, with his skill set, I have to be ready for anything.”
The 35-year-old also understands the sense of urgency Assunção might carry with him into the Octagon. Assunção is searching for his first win since July 2018, and Henry is ready for a version of his opponent who has his back up against the wall.
In terms of the type of fight he is anticipating, Henry said he wouldn’t be surprised if Assunção came out to control the bout and win on the scorecards. However, the way Henry fights, he wants to earn that first finish in the Octagon. He’s proud of the significant strikes record he tallied against Barcelos but admits he felt some type of way about landing that many shots and not getting his opponent out of there early. In that initial matchup, he believes he made an error in not maintaining the proper range after rocking Barcelos.
A finish of Assunção would certainly put Henry on the radar for a potential fight against someone in or around the Top 15, which means more eyeballs and a bigger spotlight, whether he likes it or not.
“Even after all these fights, I'm still learning,” Henry said. “I'm still evolving, but I need to take Assunção out. That’s just the way it's got to be. He needs to take me out, too, so I guess we're both leading this dance.”
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