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UFC: Benson Henderson turns loss into motivation
On Dec. 16, 2010, Benson Henderson sat on a stage in front of reporters inside the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz., weeping.
The tears were flowing because the Decatur High School graduate had just lost his World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) lightweight championship belt to Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, ending a 10-fight win streak. The heart-breaking defeat, which included a highlight-reel kick by Pettis, looked like it would derail Henderson’s promising mixed martial arts career.
“It was definitely a step back,” Henderson said of the loss Wednesday. “It was a downer.”
But fast forward 11 months and things couldn’t be better for Henderson. After moving into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) following the Pettis loss, Henderson’s MMA career is back on the fast track.
He has dominated his two UFC fights against guys that were “supposed” to beat him. Now, the 2001 Decatur grad will fight Clay Guida in the co-main event at the UFC on FOX event Nov. 12 at a sold-out Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The winner will, most likely, get a UFC lightweight title shot in their next fight.
The event will be the UFC’s first foray onto network television and feature a heavyweight championship main event fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. The UFC on FOX will run from 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 12.
“It’s very exciting to be on the FOX card,” said Henderson, who is 14-2 in his MMA career. “It’s going to be big and historic.”
Although UFC President Dana White wouldn’t guarantee the Henderson/Guida winner a title shot against current lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, he also didn’t shoot it down.
“I don’t know. I have no idea,” White said recently. “We’re going to have to see what happens. I haven’t even thought about it. You have to understand, the only thing I’m thinking about now is FOX. I’ve just got to get past this event. Everything else is taking a back seat.”
“(A title shot) is not even in the back of my mind,” Henderson said. “I take every fight like it’s my first fight in the UFC. I just want to get my hand raised every time I fight.”
Guida is 29-11 during a long MMA career, but has won his last four UFC fights in a row, including a unanimous decision over Pettis on June 4, to enter the lightweight championship picture.
“Ben Henderson is the next guy in front of me that’s keeping me from my title shot,” Guida said recently. “This is going to be my most important fight, my toughest fight. I know Ben is going to be on his top conditioning and his best camp, so that’s all we’re looking for.”
Henderson also knows that he’s in for the toughest fight of his career when he steps into the ring with Guida, who is well known for his relentless pressure and unending stamina.
“I’m looking for a very stereotypical Clay,” Henderson said. “He’s going to come forward and bounce around all over the place. I’m definitely going to try and turn up the intensity and pace myself.”
Henderson says he learned a lot about fighting at his highest level during and after his loss to Pettis. He calls the defeat a blessing in disguise. It caused him to refocus on getting back to the top of the mixed martial arts world.
“After that, I had to rededicate myself,” Henderson said. “I had to pour my heart and soul into this. After that defeat, I had to do a little soul searching. What I was doing wasn’t quite enough. But I never doubted that I was going to be successful in MMA. I still knew I would be fighting for a title.”
Henderson didn’t make any big adjustments to his fight game or go back to the proverbial drawing board. The biggest of those changes came in his attitude inside the Octagon. During his loss to Pettis in the WEC lightweight championship match, Henderson claims that he got into the habit of leaning backward on some occasions.
“I think it would have been a different fight,” he said. “Like football, MMA is a game of inches. Against Pettis, I was leaning back just a little bit and it cost me.”
Since the loss and the eventual takeover of the WEC by the UFC, Henderson has steamrolled a pair of top contenders in very impressive fashion. He beat Canada’s Mark Bocek by unanimous decision in front of 55,000 fans in Toronto in April. Henderson then stopped Jim Miller’s seven-match UFC win streak in another unanimous decision in August.
“The difference with getting that loss is my mental state,” Henderson said. “I was too relaxed and loosey-goosey and letting the other fighter dictate how the fight goes. Since then, I have been more aggressive and go get the other guy. I come out harder and stronger, more aggressive. I lost because I was backing up too much.”
“If I had to make a pick, I’m going with Henderson (over Guida),” said Pettis, who has fought both. “Henderson was amazing in his last fight. It looks like he’s putting it all together. He is another guy who’s growing in the sport very, very well. I think Guida’s going to have a hard time controlling him. I’m very interested in watching that fight, and it should be a good one.”
But Pettis and everyone else in the United States who’s not inside the Honda Center Nov. 12 will only be able to watch the Henderson-Guida fight streaming on their computers.
During a conference call Wednesday to promote the event, White said the heavyweight title fight between Valesquez and dos Santos will be the lone fight on the hour-long FOX broadcast.
“There’s only going to be one fight,” White flatly stated. “The heavyweight championship fight is the only fight that’s going to be on FOX. (Even) if it goes 10 seconds.”
The Henderson-Guida battle, along with the other nine fights on the undercard, will stream live on Facebook and FOX.com. The announcement came as a bit of a shock to Henderson, who signed on to the FOX event thinking he would get the national television exposure.
“People assumed it was going to be on,” Henderson said Wednesday. “I got a bunch of messages today, tweets and emails from fans, that told me Dana White said it wouldn’t be on TV. It is what it is. I know I’m not always going to get what I want. I just want to take care of business.”
Henderson, 28, began wrestling during his time at Lakota Middle School and continued at Decatur, where he competed under head coach Mike Bressler.
His prep career culminated with a second-place finish at the 2001 Mat Classic state wrestling championships inside the Tacoma Dome, losing to University’s Tommy Owen in the 135-pound title match.
After Decatur, Henderson went on to wrestle at Dana College in Nebraska, where he earned NAIA All-American honors as a senior after finishing in fifth place at 157 pounds in 2006.
Henderson’s performance helped Dana College win the NAIA national championship that year.
He actually started MMA fighting a year later after a dare from a couple of Dana wrestlers.