WEC 48: Decatur's Ben Henderson retains lightweight world championship in front of 14,000 fans in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO — Ben "Smooth" Henderson didn’t get too much face time Saturday night inside a sold-out Arco Arena.

But the Decatur High School graduate left no debate this time in his championship rematch against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at World Extreme Cagefighting’s (WEC) first-ever pay-per-view event in Sacramento. In the co-main event Saturday, Henderson tapped out Cerrone in just 1:57 to retain his 155-pound WEC world lightweight championship belt.

The two fighters first met in October 2009 at WEC 43, where Henderson won a hard-fought, five-round unanimous decision to claim the lightweight interim belt. The match was dubbed “Fight of the Year” by numerous media outlets.

But Saturday’s rematch proved to be a mismatch. Henderson even had to cut short a post-fight interview to complete a few wind sprints up and down a hall at Arco Arena at the advice of his trainer.

That's how easy the win over Cerrone proved to be.

“To be completely honest and frank, I was a little bit surprised,” Henderson said after the fight. “I definitely went in there expecting a five-round, knock-down, drag-out war.”

The fight started slowly, with both Henderson and Cerrone sizing each other up. After an early takedown failed, Henderson was able to get Cerrone to the ground on a second shot after blasting him with several knees to the head and leg.

After a few quick punches to the head, Henderson slapped on a picture-perfect guillotine choke hold and got Cerrone to tap-out seconds later at the 1:57 mark of the opening round.

With the win, Henderson moves to 12-1 overall and is riding an 11-match winning streak, including two lightweight title defenses. Cerrone drops to 11-3, with all three losses coming in title fights.

“Hats off to him,” Cerrone said in the ring after the fight. “He is a great, great fighter.”

“I just went in there and wanted to implement the game plan,” Henderson said. “The gameplan was to attack and hopefully it went my way. I wanted to get a feel for him in the first round and keep him up against the cage and go from there. It went exactly how I wanted it to go.”

Saturday night’s event inside Arco Arena, the home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, drew a WEC-record 14,144 fans, a figure that netted a gate of $1 million, according to WEC and UFC President Dana White. The event was the WEC’s first pay-per-view event and was headlined by a title fight between 145-pounders Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo. Aldo won an easy five-round unanimous decision over hometown boy Faber.

But Henderson’s win over Cerrone might have been the most impressive during the 11-match card Saturday night. The 26-year-old, who now lives and trains in Arizona, dominated Cerrone from the opening bell and proved his mixed martial arts (MMA) game is improving every fight.

During their first match, many fans disagreed with the judges and thought Cerrone had won the match. This time around, Henderson didn’t want to leave the decision up to the judges.

“Some critics and fans and reporters and what not were questioning the decision last time and whether or not I got lucky or how the judges scored,” Henderson said. “So this time I was going to run through a brick wall to finish this fight. I will finish this fight and I did that. What more do you want me to do?”

Henderson is still pretty new to the mixed martial arts game. Like most other MMA fighters, Henderson’s journey into the sport started on the wrestling mat. He began wrestling during his time at Lakota Junior High 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 and he started his MMA career a year later after a dare from a couple Dana wrestlers.

“I didn’t even know how to punch,” Henderson said. “I took the guy down, he turned around, and I just started punching. The ref stopped the fight, and the crowd was going nuts. It was such a thrill.”

That night in Omaha, Neb. was a lot different from Saturday in Sacramento. The fights were held in front of hundreds of people and Henderson was awarded $300 for the victory.

Following WEC 48, Henderson’s pocketbook got a lot thicker.

Besides his appearance fee for the pay-per-view event, which was “more money than these guys have ever made,” according to White, Henderson also earned a $65,000 bonus for the “Submission of the Night.”

Bonuses were also give out for “Knockout of the Night (Manny Gamburyan)” and “Fight of the Night (Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung).” They were the largest in WEC history.

It’s still up in the air as to what’s next for Henderson. If he remains in the WEC, a rematch with Shane Roller might be on the horizon. Roller notched his third straight win, choking out Anthony Njokuani midway through the first round Saturday in a preliminary match.

But a rematch with Henderson doesn’t seem like a very sexy fight. Henderson TKO’d Roller in 1:41 a year ago and has beaten pretty much every contender the WEC has to offer. That streak includes two wins over Cerrone, a title win over former champion Jamie Varner, the knockout of Roller and submission of Anthony Njokuani. His last loss was in December of 2006.

“I’m not really looking to rematch everybody I have beaten,” Henderson said Saturday. “After I knock someone out in 1:30, do I want to fight them again? Not so much. But if they say do, I’ll do it.”

“Obviously I want the belt,” Roller said after his fight. “It’s a beautiful thing and that’s what I’m after. Although the (first) fight ended in 1:30, maybe he doesn’t want a rematch because I hurt him. I’m the only one to hurt him. I want a rematch.”

The more likely scenario has Henderson moving into the UFC’s 155-pound division. White, has insinuated that he will be combining the UFC and WEC’s lightweight divisions in the near future. The UFC is the top notch in mixed martial arts fighting.

White has also said that he is interested in putting Henderson in the cage against some of the best fighters in the UFC and considers him one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in MMA.

“I want to test myself against some of those guys,” Henderson said. “I want to be the best on the planet and to do that you have to fight the best on the planet.”

According to most, the UFC and WEC lightweight division will merge once a 125-pound flyweight division is added to the WEC’s current lineup, which now includes 135-, 145- and 155-pound divisions. The UFC currently has 155, 170, 185 and heavyweight divisions.

“I’m just going to wait to hear from these guys,” Henderson said with a smile, pointing to White. “When they say jump, I say how high.”

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