Benson Henderson may be one of the top fighters in the mixed martial arts world, but when it comes to his return to the ring April 27 he’s focused on so much more than his next fight.
Marking his debut on a new six-fight contract signed in November, Henderson will face off against Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 220 in San Jose, California.
“I am focused on another title run and becoming the first fighter to hold the world title in three organizations,” Henderson said.
Henderson, a former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight (146-155 pounds) champion who trains at The MMA Lab in Glendale, came to Bellator in 2016, when he unsuccessfully challenged for the promotion’s welterweight (156-170) title against then-champ Andrey Koreshkov.
“I struggled when I came to Bellator and lost two of my first three fights,” Henderson said. “I don’t think I fought badly; I just had some tough outings and couldn’t pull out wins in those early fights.”
A natural lightweight, Henderson dropped down to 155 pounds, scoring a TKO win over Patricio Freire before suffering a split-decision loss to Michael Chandler in a bid for Bellator’s lightweight belt.
After the loss to Chandler, Henderson felt something was wrong, and discovered he needed an ACL surgery.
“I would never make that an excuse, but having the surgery was a turnaround for me,” Henderson said. “I was still performing well, but it got to a point where I wasn’t getting up as fast, I wasn’t kicking as hard. At that point, I had to get surgery.”
After a 10-month layoff, he returned in September 2017 and again lost a split-decision to Patricky Freire, before bouncing back with wins over Roger Huerta and Saad Awad.
“I am now feeling 100% and ready to rock and roll and show the world how much better I am,” Henderson said. “I have been working on all aspects of my game and am ready to show the world how much better my fight game has become.”
He said he is now focused on a return to championship form as he faces Piccolotti, who is also on a two-fight winning streak. Piccolotti is 7-2 in Bellator and 11-2 overall. But Henderson (3-3 in Bellator, 26-8 overall) is prepared for a battle.
“I think I match up pretty well because he is a huge prospect coming up, and while he also took a couple of back-to-back losses he has rebounded the way he’s supposed to,” Henderson said. “This kid is a real fighter. He’s legitimately gotten better in each and every one of his fights. He’s come along. He’s right up there and a tough kid. This is a great opportunity for him to get a walk off home run. This is his chance. Good luck.”
Henderson only sees one possible outcome to this fight: him winning in a big way.
“I expect to get my hand raised in emphatic fashion,” Henderson said. “I know I have to get my hand raised and I want to keep it going after my last two wins. I know wins are hard to come by in Bellator and that I have struggled, but I am looking for a dominant performance and starting my run at the belt.”
Henderson is co-owner of The MMA Lab with his coach and partner John Crouch, who he credits with a lot of his success in the ring and out.
“(Crouch) is my best friend, business partner, and he married my wife and me 12 years ago,” Henderson said. “I took my first class with him in 2008 and he is a main reason I have had the success I have had. He will always be a part of my life both professionally and personally.”
Henderson, who is a regular at The MMA Lab, credits the gym with making him a better fighter and person.
“It is huge to have a home base like the Lab, especially being surrounded by people that love you as a person and not just the fame they may get,” Henderson said. “It is a very special feeling to walk into the gym and teach a kid, then return from a fight and they are saying they watched me on television. It just brings you back down to earth, and I think that is a special feeling to see the look on little kids’ faces when I talk to them.”
When he signed his new contract with Bellator in November, he was engaged in informal talks about a return to the UFC. He ultimately decided the best course for him was to remain with Bellator.
“You know, they came to me with an offer that was better than my first, and I just thought that was awesome,” Henderson said. “I had informal discussions about returning to UFC, but I knew the offer wasn’t going to be as high and it was just a better fit to stay with Bellator.”
Knowing that in Bellator each fighter earns their chances, he realized that could be a lot different with a return to the UFC.
“If they like you in the UFC, they promote you and you get shots at the title,” Henderson said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense because you could be on a winning streak and ranked No. 2, and they will give the shots to a guy who’s ranked 13th because maybe they like him more. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
He feels Bellator is focused on putting on the best fights possible, and matching fighters who can showcase what the company has to offer.
“Bellator is doing a great job with their fighters. If you look at the cards in the past they are putting on some amazing fights. I am honored to be part of this organization,” Henderson said. “Now, I am focused on getting back to the top of the mountain and getting that title.”
Henderson may not be the only fighter in his household making waves in the near future, though. His wife of 12 years, Maria, could prove to be someone to keep an eye on.
“My wife is going to start fighting soon, and of course I’ll be helping her out and all that after baby No. 3 is born later this year. So maybe another six months or so after that she’ll be having her first fight, after training for a little while now,” Henderson said.
“I may be biased, but I think she’s a lot better than she gives herself credit for. But because of having three kids in three years she hasn’t been able to train super consistently, so she has been dabbling at this for a while now.”
A father of two, with a third on the way, Henderson said while he knows his fighting career is nearing an end – this could be his final contract – he knows where his future is headed.
“In five years I will be tolling around my three little ones to their wrestling tournaments around Phoenix and all of Arizona and coaching at The MMA Lab,” Henderson said.
“That, plus I will be cheering on my wife. She is going to surprise a lot of people when she steps into the cage and will be one of the most popular and dominant fighters. That is where I see myself in five years.”