You have to respect a fighter who tempts fate and enters into free agency based on the belief they have in their own abilities. Ben Henderson took that risk in Seoul, South Korea today and for the moment its seems the gamble has paid off for The MMA Lab product as he banked his second win in as many outings as UFC welterweight.
Malki Kawa, Henderson’s manager, revealed the former WEC and UFC champion’s contractual situation in an interview with Fox Sports in the lead up to his all-important bout in the headline slot for UFC’s first trip to South Korea.
“For Ben it’s a really big deal because he is on the last fight of his contract,” Kawa told FoxSports.com on the lead up to the Seoul date.
“Obviously when you’re at the end of a contract, if you plan on negotiating a new deal, whether it’s the UFC or anybody out there, you want to do it on a term where you’re the most valuable and you're obviously the most valuable if you win. So it’s a huge fight for Ben, there’s a lot riding on this one for him.”
Masvidal certainly made Henderson work for the all important split decision win. While the contest was very even, ‘Bendo’ seemed to able to pull something extra out of his sleeve each time he was behind to claim precious rounds on the judges’ scorecards. ‘Gamebred’ came very close to finishing a high elbow guillotine in the final round, but Henderson’s excellent defensive skills got him out of trouble just in the nick of time.
The former UFC champ looked very competent on his feet when considering the striking pedigree of Masvidal. The ATT man landed some heavy shots on his opponent but Henderson’s evasive skills always saw him exit the exchanges just before some potential fight-ending damage was done. Henderson’s jab and leg kicks kept the former Strikforce lightweight title contender at bay throughout the five-round affair.
“I had a good fight,” said Henderson in his post-fight interview with Kenny Florian. “I’m glad I had my hand raised. We all know decisions can go either way. I just want to say thanks for all of the experiences guys, it was fun. Let’s keep this bus rolling.”
“Hats off to Jorge for giving me this fight. The dude is a bad son of a gun, he’s super tough. He may not have the biggest number of fans, but people who know the sport know how tough he is. Man, he gave me a tough battle so hats off to him. I’d like to thank him for taking the fight so I had a fight here in Seoul, Korea.”
Interestingly, despite his reign at the top of the lightweight division and running up an incredible record of 10-3 with the organization, Henderson never really seemed to take off in terms of his stardom until his last outing, his first at welterweight.
The MMA Lab product’s concise decision wins in his first seven outings under the UFC banner led to fans accusing Henderson of being “boring” and when his old rival Anthony Pettis took his belt from him with a first round armbar, the arrival of a new “spectacular” champ was heralded by the masses. However, when he took on dangerous striker Brandon Thatch on short notice back in February, the result seemed to endear him to the MMA world.
Maybe it was the immense size disparity, Henderson stepping up from lightweight to face one of the bigger 170ers in Thatch, or perhaps it was the excellent game plan that he executed on the night. As Thatch poured on the pressure early, Bendo weathered the storm and overwhelmed the imposing kickboxer in the grappling exchanges before submitting him with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round.
Henderson’s ethos for fighting all comers got pushed into the forefront after his fourth round win over ‘Rukus’. The former champion might be more popular than ever since emerging as a welterweight, and his desire to fight was tested again in the lead-up to his main event date in South Korea.
The fact that the UFC were set to host their first show in South Korea with Henderson at the forefront of the card would have meant a lot to the American, whose mother hails from the country. Even when his original opponent Thiago Alves pulled out of the contest, Henderson had no problem in taking Jorge Masvidal who stepped up from his co-main event slot with Dong Hyun Kim.
A win will certainly help Henderson as he goes back to the drawing board with his contract negotiations. Roy Nelson famously tried the same power play with free agency back in 2013, but unfortunately for ‘Big Country’, Stipe Miocic claimed victory over him on the night to spoil his last contract bout with UFC.
The ball is now firmly in Henderson’s court in terms of his future. The MMA Lab fighter can now field offers from all promotions, but it still seems unlikely that he will leave the UFC. The fact that the only fighters he has lost to are on the UFC’s books and the former champion’s drive to challenge himself against the best in the world will certainly work in Dana White and Co’s favor.
However, as a well-known and highly skilled commodity that is known by international audiences, Henderson may draw a ridiculous offer from one UFC’s rivals that simply could not be turned down. All we can do is wait and see.
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