SIDELINES: Henderson's wallet says it's good to be the UFC lightweight champion
By CASEY OLSON
Federal Way Mirror Sports editor
August 15, 2012 · Updated 11:26 AM
Being a professional fighter is a tough existence. Nobody is ever going to question that.
Getting your face beat in day after day in practice, losing 20 pounds in two days to "make weight," and the inevitable case of cauliflower ear are just things that go along with making your living as a fighter.
That living usually doesn't last very long. Most guys realize that making a few hundred dollars per fight isn't worth all the effort.
Federal Way native Benson Henderson has bucked those odds and is making a healthy living as a professional mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighter. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the NFL, NBA and MLB all rolled into one in the MMA business. Henderson is one of only seven UFC champions. The elite of the already elite.
Being the best 155-pound MMA fighter in the world has brought well-deserved rewards for the 2001 Decatur High School graduate. Henderson is now making a good living in the rough-and-tumble business of professional fighting.
According to unofficial numbers, Henderson made a cool $60,000 Saturday night when he defended his UFC lightweight championship belt with a split decision win over Frankie Edgar in Denver. That's far from the couple hundred bucks Henderson made when he started his MMA career in 2006.
It was his second win over Edgar in the past seven months. Henderson won the lightweight belt when he beat Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan, where he made a reported $125,000. The payout included $30,000 to show, $30,000 for winning and a $65,000 fight of the night bonus.
Things are only going to get better for Henderson, assuming he keeps the lightweight championship belt around his waist for a while. Despite being at the pinnacle in the loaded 155-pound division of the UFC, Henderson is still known as an up-and-comer.
During 2011, Henderson reportedly made $193,000 fighting in the UFC. Last year, Henderson fought three times in the UFC after moving over from World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). He won all three by unanimous decision over Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Clay Guida.
In the past seven years, former and current UFC champions have become millionaires many times over from fight purses alone. Guys like Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Georges St. Pierre have grossed well over $3 million in purses alone, according to mma-manifesto.com. That doesn't take into consideration things like sponsorships, appearances and fight bonuses.
It was just announced at UFC 150 that current light heavyweight champ Jon "Bones" Jones will be sponsored by Nike, the gold standard in sports with clients like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Jones' Nike deal was actually facilitated by Henderson's agent, Malki Kawa, who also represents Jones.
"It legitimizes the sport in such a big way," Kawa said. "It opens the door for every other fighter out there because now, if you're an intelligent manager or marketing guy, you go to people and say, 'Hey, look, Nike's in our sport — they've got Jon Jones. You can't get Jon Jones. Nike's got him. But there are other opportunities.'"
Other opportunities that Henderson can take advantage of, as long as he keeps winning. Henderson is an advertiser's dream. He is a proud Christian, who uses his fighting to share his beliefs. Henderson has never even sipped alcohol.
Henderson's next title defense will come against Nate Diaz sometime in 2012. The fight is already shaping up to be a barnburner. Early reports have the title fight possibly taking place Dec. 8 at the network-televised UFC on FOX 5 card, according to USA Today.
Diaz, who was ringside at Saturday's win over Edgar, questioned the judges' decision to UFC President Dana White and also went to Twitter with a message that read "????" moments after Henderson's hand was raised.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘Frankie Edgar won that fight,’” White told reporters after the split decision.
Henderson knows that's just the start of the trash talk that Diaz, known as one of the biggest bad boys in the UFC, will employ as their bout approaches.
“God bless him,” Henderson said. “It’s going to be a fun fight. I know going into this fight he gets guys worked up in the head and stuff. He’s a tough fighter. I’m anxious to get into that also.”
Henderson is also anxious to collect the paycheck that will go along his network-televised title defense. The last time there was a UFC championship on the line on FOX, heavyweight Junior dos Santos walked out of the ring with $290,000 for his first-round knockout of Cain Velasquez at UFC on FOX 1.
Unlike a lot of fighters, Henderson had the work ethic and talent to make it in the cut-throat business of professional MMA fighting, and his bank account is reaping the benefits.Contact Federal Way Mirror Sports editor Casey Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 925-5565 ext. 5056.