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UFC: Benson Henderson's lightweight title on the line Saturday at UFC 150 in Denver
A lot has changed for Benson Henderson since he won the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight championship in February.
That's when the 2001 Decatur High School graduate won a unanimous decision over former champ Frankie Edgar in Tokyo, Japan, to become the best 155-pounder in the world and one of seven UFC champions.
Henderson's meteoric rise continues Saturday night at UFC 150 inside Denver's Pepsi Arena where he will fight Edgar again with the lightweight championship belt on the line.
“We both always bring it and always have good entertaining fights,” Henderson said. “We always put on a great show and that’s going to stay the same in Denver.”
Henderson and Edgar did exactly that in Japan. The two fought a five-round war with Henderson winning a unanimous but somewhat controversial decision. The biggest moment in the fight came late in the second round when Henderson broke Edgar's nose with an upkick. He also shut Edgar's left eye by landing several jabs.
Edgar tried to use his more polished boxing and movement, but Henderson used his size and strength to control the middle of the ring, landing the more powerful shots.
"I did think I won the fight," Edgar said about the February meeting. "The fight was close and was controversial. I gave two rematches, I guess it's my turn."
"Frankie is obviously entitled to his opinion," Henderson said. "I just think a little differently. I will beat Frankie again for the second time (Saturday)."
Edgar, who held the UFC lightweight championship for nearly two years, will become the first fighter in the organization's history to compete in six consecutive title fights Saturday against Henderson. Edgar granted rematches to B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard during his run.
Despite granting the immediate rematch to Edgar, which he didn't have to do, Henderson won't be afforded the same opportunity if he loses Saturday night in Denver, according to UFC President Dana White.
"Of course, if Ben loses in the fight, he gets back in line," White said. "So, definitely some pressure on Henderson for that fight."
White told a throng of reporters last week that he wants to get the lightweight division moving again.
“It’s the unfortunate position that Ben is in," White said. "Ben steps up and takes the rematch with Frankie, which I didn’t want it to happen, but Frankie came to me a million times. This guy has always stepped up, always been there for us and I felt obligated to return the favor. So, Ben accepted."
White has made it pretty clear that the winner of the Henderson-Edgar fight will take on Nate Diaz in the next title defense.
"Dana White can say what he wants to say," Henderson said. "I just want to win my next fight. I want to win my next fight, period. Very badly. I don't care about all the other stuff. I'm one of only seven UFC champs in the world."
Henderson has thoroughly enjoyed his six months wearing the UFC lightweight championship belt. But there is a lot of things that go along with the ultra-elite title of being a champion. Things the normal fan wouldn't even think about.
"Don't get me wrong, it's awesome," Henderson said of his title. "But in terms of time management, it's been kind of rough."
Henderson gives the example of being away from home for six weekends in a row following his win over Edgar in Japan.
"I was at different functions and doing different things," Henderson said. "I would leave every Friday and wouldn't get home until Sunday. I'm not a good traveller."
But soft-spoken and humble Henderson has been able to concentrate on Saturday's rematch with Edgar after letting the UFC brass know that he wouldn't be hopping on any airplanes during his training camp.
"Once the fight gets closer, I told them I'm done traveling. I have to get into the gym."
Henderson has also undertaken several business opportunities outside of the Octagon since exploding in the UFC. He has become an owner of the gym he has trained at for the last five years, The MMA Lab in Glendale, Ariz., and also bought a stake in Bueño Burger, a Mexican-American grill restaurant in Scottsdale.
“After winning the belt, we had a bunch of new guys show up at our gym,” Henderson said. “It’s been cool and fun to see a lot of different people. It’s nice to feel that.”
Henderson gets his entrepreneurial aspirations from his mother, Song, who owns and operates Peter’s Grocery, a small convenience store in Tacoma.
“I’m going to very much try and not change my mentality,” Henderson said. “But it’s hard for guys after winning. Even some of the best guys fight to not lose, instead of to win. I will be aggressive and go out there and do the same as I’ve always done.”
Henderson hopes Saturday night's fight ends the same way his first fight with Edgar did — with his hand raised and the UFC belt around his waist.
"Frankie is a tough fighter. We all know he's better in rematches," Henderson said. "His coaches put together a great plan for rematches. It's about finding holes in his opponents. I know he's going to be a lot hungrier."
According to Edgar, motivation for Saturday's fight isn't going to be a problem. The New Jersey native obviously got pretty used to being the UFC lightweight champion.
"Wherever I go, people call me 'Champ'," Edgar said. "The fact that the last fight, I wasn't the victor gives me more motivation. The belt belongs to me."
Henderson knows he's going to get Edgar's best shot and he's ready for that. His MMA Lab teammates and coaches have been training in Flagstaff, Ariz. for the last several weeks. Flagstaff sits 7,000-feet above sea level, which is nearly 2,000-feet higher than Denver.
"Thankfully, I'm not afraid of hard work," Henderson said. "I just want to be the best. The greatest of all time. At this level, fights are so close. A lot of times, it boils down to who shows up that night. For fighters, we have to be on top of our game "
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.
"I live this this," Henderson said. "This is what I do. I live this lifestyle. I'm a fighter."