UFC: Benson Henderson ready to be lightweight champ, best in the world

Decatur High School graduate Benson Henderson will fight current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Tokyo, Japan Saturday. The pay-per-view kicks off at 7 p.m.  - Courtesy photo
Decatur High School graduate Benson Henderson will fight current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Tokyo, Japan Saturday. The pay-per-view kicks off at 7 p.m.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Benson Henderson’s goal is to be the best mixed-martial arts fighter in the world.

“Not one of the best,” the Decatur High School graduate said. “Not top five, top three, top whatever. I want to be the best pound-for-pound fighter period. That goal is still in my sights. I’ll still always wake up thinking about that.”

Henderson’s journey to be the top pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world continues Saturday night when he takes on Frankie Edgar in the main event at UFC 144 at the Saitaon Super Arena in Tokyo. Edgar is the reigning UFC lightweight champion and his 155-pound belt will be on the line in Japan.

Edgar (14-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) has held the UFC lightweight title for nearly two years and successfully defended the belt twice with a draw mixed in.

But Edgar’s recent wins over UFC legends B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard won’t intimidate Henderson. The Federal Way native has also defended a world title several times. Henderson held the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) 155-pound title for over a year before his 10-fight win streak was stopped by Anthony Pettis in December 2011.

“It’d mean a lot to beat Frankie,” Henderson said. “I think you want to face guys who are top opponents. I want to beat the best guys on the planet. Frankie is certainly up there. He’s defended his belt a bunch of times. He’s had some great wars. There’s nothing bad you can say about him at all. So to fight someone like him, to take the belt from a fighter like Frankie, from a champion like Frankie, it’ll definitely be an honor.”

The UFC 144 seven-fight pay-per-view card, which also includes Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Pettis and Jake Shields, will kick off at 7 p.m. It’s the first time the UFC has been to Japan since 1997. It’s an honor that isn’t lost on Henderson and Edgar.

“Yes, obviously I’m super excited to fight over in Japan, the birth place for martial arts,” Edgar said. “It is ingrained in their culture, they’re huge fans and I think they’re going to appreciate the show we put on.”

But there are some challenges to fighting halfway across the world in a completely different culture.

“Just logistically, a lot of things I would not think of on my own unless I asked a lot of people who did fight in Japan a bunch of times,” Henderson said. “Adjusting training times when we get there after landing, what time we spar at, all that sort of stuff. So, yes, I talked to a guy who has fought all over the world, so I definitely picked his brain on some things we need to do.”

Henderson was also concerned about the food in Japan and making sure he had the right nutrients to put in his body before weighing in.

“The food over there is going to be quite different,” he said. “I’m going to be on a pretty strict diet, so making sure I’m good to go with that stuff is key.”

Since the loss to Pettis and the eventual takeover of the WEC by the UFC, Henderson has steamrolled three of the UFC’s 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 2011. Henderson then stopped Jim Miller’s seven-match UFC win streak in August before winning another unanimous decision over Clay Guida in November at UFC on FOX in Anaheim.

“Maybe back then, I wasn’t quite ready and wasn’t quite up to style or whatever the reason was. Here I am now and I’m ready to give my best shot,” Henderson said. “I wouldn’t say unfinished business, but I definitely want to avenge that loss. Anthony is a tough, tough kid. I imagine I will be seeing him again. Whenever he gets a shot for my belt, let’s do it.”

Henderson is also excited to be the main event Saturday night after his fight against Guida wasn’t even televised, despite the winner being guaranteed a shot at the UFC lightweight title.

“My last fight was kind of put on the back burner,” Henderson said. “But it is what it is. It’s up to the higher-ups to decide who’s going to be the main event. And to have my fight not air, it was a little upsetting.”

Things are also coming together for Henderson outside of the Octagon. Recently, Henderson became the full-time owner of the gym he has trained at for the last five years, The MMA Lab in Arizona.

Following graduation from Dana College in Nebraska, where he wrestled, Henderson moved to the Phoenix area to work and train at The MMA Lab. He made a “couple hundred dollars a month, just barely enough to survive.”

“It’s a pretty big difference from five years ago cleaning out the toilets, taking out the garbage, and going on Starbucks runs for the owner and his wife. Pretty big difference, and I’m happy for it,” Henderson joked when speaking with

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.

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