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UFC: Henderson's road back to lightweight title starts Saturday with Josh Thomson

Decatur High School graduate Benson Henderson will take on Josh Thomson in the main event at UFC on FOX 10 Saturday night inside Chicago
Decatur High School graduate Benson Henderson will take on Josh Thomson in the main event at UFC on FOX 10 Saturday night inside Chicago's United Center. The fight will be broadcast on Q13 starting at 5 p.m.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Benson Henderson's quest to get back on top of the UFC lightweight division starts Saturday night inside Chicago's United Center.

The 2001 Decatur High School graduate will take on Josh Thomson in the main event of the UFC on FOX 10. The four-fight card will be on free national television starting at 5 p.m. on Q13 FOX.

Saturday night will be Henderson's first fight since he lost the 155-pound belt to Anthony "Showtime" Pettis on Aug. 31, 2013. The loss ended Henderson's seven-fight win streak and his 18-month grasp on the lightweight championship.

“The stakes are really high in this fight and both of these guys want to fight for the belt," said UFC President Dana White.

Pettis caught Henderson (19-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC) with an armbar late in the first round and made the former UFC champ submit. It was the second time during their careers that Pettis beat Henderson. The two fought in the final event of World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in December 2010, with Pettis winning by unanimous decision to take the WEC belt from Henderson.

“The lesson I took away from the loss is I just made a mistake,” Henderson told MMAjunkie. “Everyone makes mistakes in their fights. Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre – everybody. Every fighter makes mistakes in their fights. The goal is to make those holes in your game smaller and smaller and smaller – make those mistakes happen less frequently.”

Before losing his belt to Pettis, Henderson was set to become the most successful 155-pound champion in UFC history. A win over Pettis would have given Henderson four title defenses, which would have been a UFC record.

“I made a mistake, and he capitalized on it,” Henderson said of Pettis. “He did a great job. Hats off to him. That’s why he has the belt right now. He was able to capitalize on a small mistake and finished the armbar. So the lesson from that fight is the same as all fights. How do I get better? How do I improve? How do I learn how to not make the next mistake?”

Thomson (20-5 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is the former titleholder in another mixed-martial arts (MMA) organization, Strikeforce. Thomson was set to take on Pettis for the lightweight championship in December, but Pettis had to pull out of the fight to undergo knee surgery. That's when Henderson, the No. 1 contender for the UFC lightweight title, stepped in.

“I see this one being a war,” Henderson said. “I know he can go five rounds. He’s a true veteran of the game. You know he’s going to be prepared, going to be ready. He’s trained with so many guys in his MMA career and fought so many guys that there’s not going to be a whole lot that surprises him. I see this fight being a tough, knockdown, drag-out war – a battle of attrition. I need to make sure I win that battle.”

Saturday's UFC on FOX 10 will be the sixth straight time that Henderson has fought in the main event on a UFC card. This will also mark the first time Henderson has fought as a married man.

Following Henderson's win over Gilbert Melendez at UFC on FOX 7 in San Jose, he proposed to his then-girlfriend inside The Octagon last year after the split-decision victory. The two were married earlier this month in Arizona.

“It didn’t really take my attention away,” he said. “I knew I can do a pretty good job of having my work life be work and my home life be home. I was able to keep the two separate, stay concentrated on Josh on the 25th. That’s the only thing I need to do."

“It took a little bit of advanced planning. I had to wake up a little earlier to get training sessions in or have a little bit later workout session – make sure I get in on time, leave on time to do this or do that. But there were no distractions or anything like that.”

According to Henderson, he and his new wife Maria will be taking their honeymoon following the Thomson fight, which he hopes is another win. Henderson has never lost two fights in a row during his nearly 10-year mixed martial arts career.

It's still up in air whether Henderson will get an immediate rematch with Pettis if he beats Thomson, or if he needs to get another victory.

“I’m the No. 1 contender, so after I beat Josh, I think I’m at No. 1 still,” Henderson said. “There’s nowhere to go for me except a title shot. I’m the No. 1 contender, and after I beat the next guy, I’ll stay No. 1 contender. I will have that belt around my waist again.”

This will be Henderson's fourth appearance on a nationally televised UFC on FOX event. He beat Clay Guida at UFC on FOX 1, downed Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 5 and beat Melendez at UFC on FOX 7.

Henderson, 30, began his wrestling career during his time at Lakota Middle School and continued wrestling at Decatur, where he graduated in 2001. He went on to wrestle at Dana College in Nebraska and started MMA fighting a year after a dare from a couple of wrestlers.

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