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UFC: Benson Henderson's homecoming fight Dec. 8 at KeyArena

Decatur High School graduate Benson Henderson will defend his UFC lightweight championship Dec. 8 at KeyArena during the UFC on Fox 5 event against No. 1 contender Nate Diaz. - Courtesy photo
Decatur High School graduate Benson Henderson will defend his UFC lightweight championship Dec. 8 at KeyArena during the UFC on Fox 5 event against No. 1 contender Nate Diaz.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Benson Henderson is coming home to defend his lightweight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) belt. The Decatur High School graduate will take on Nate Diaz in the main event of the nationally-televised UFC on Fox 5 card Dec. 8 at Seattle’s KeyArena.

“Five minutes after they announced it, I had 20 calls and texts,” Henderson said during a recent interview. “I’ve got a ton of messages and tweets and emails from my buddies. There’s going to be a large pro-Ben Henderson crowd.”

Henderson (16-2 overall) is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC since moving over from the smaller World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) organization. Henderson, who now lives and trains in Glendale, Ariz., held the WEC lightweight championship for over a year before having his 10-fight win streak snapped by Anthony “Showtime” Pettis in December 2011.

Since the loss to Pettis and the eventual takeover of the WEC by the UFC, Henderson has steamrolled four 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. He then beat Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan to win the UFC 155-pound title and won the rematch Aug. 11.

Diaz earned No. 1 contender status in the lightweight division with three-straight wins over Jim Miller, Donald Cerrone and Takanori Gomi. Diaz is 16-7 during his mixed-martial arts career.

“He’s been fighting for years,” UFC President Dana White said during a Tuesday conference call. “He has fought everybody and he’s on a three-match win streak.”

The Henderson fight will be Diaz’s first attempt at winning a UFC championship.

“It’s a big fight,” Diaz said Tuesday. “It’s important for the belt. It’s pretty much the biggest thing going on right now. I’m just trying to prepare the best way I can and train hard with my teammates.”

The UFC on Fox 5 main card in KeyArena also includes Brazilian Mauricio “Shogun” Rua against Swedish prospect Alexander Gustafsson and former two-division champion and one of the UFC’s all-time greats, B.J. Penn, battling rising Canadian talent Rory MacDonald. The UFC on Fox 5 telecast starts at 5 p.m. Dec. 8 on Fox Channel 13.

“The strategic idea was to put the best fights on Fox,” White said. “We want to showcase these guys on free television. It helps build the sport and helps build these fighters.”

Henderson will be featured on the hour-long, “UFC’s Road to the Octagon,” which will air Sunday on Fox following the 1 p.m. National Football League games. The special will follow Henderson and Diaz, along with Rua, Gustafsson, Penn and MacDonald.

The national television audience should help raise Henderson’s popularity throughout the MMA world. Despite being the UFC 155-pound champion since February and beating the popular Edgar twice, Henderson is still relatively unknown.

“I don’t think about that a whole lot,” Henderson said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it helps to be on big, huge national television stations that are seen worldwide. Eventually, if I keep winning and keep putting the work in, everything will fall into place.”

A big part of Henderson’s lack of name recognition might be caused by the fact that both of his wins over Edgar were somewhat controversial. Henderson won both fights by razor-thin decisions and some are asking for a dominating performance against Diaz in Seattle.

But, according to Henderson, it’s something he could really care less about. Henderson just wants to keep winning.

“I think that the first two Frankie (Edgar) fights, the first one was close and everybody was hoping the second one wouldn’t be as close,” Henderson said Tuesday. “And it was closer than that first. I’m just trying to get a (win) and get my hand raised. Getting a (win) is not easy to come by in the UFC. You are going against the best guys on the planet.”

This won’t be Henderson’s first fight on a UFC on Fox nationally-televised card. Henderson fought and beat Guida in the co-main event at UFC on Fox 1 last year in Anaheim, but the bout wasn’t broadcast. The only match televised by Fox was the heavyweight championship between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.

“This time on Fox, I get to be the actual guy on Fox, so I’m really excited about that,” Henderson said. “My first time on Fox, it was the first time the UFC was on Fox and it was so hyped and it was so big, and then, I wasn’t really on Fox. They didn’t show me, and it was so hyped up. I’m stoked this time to be the main event.”

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