Don't Forget: Benson Henderson's Second Bellator Fight Goes Down Tonight
Earlier this week, news broke that Rory MacDonald, a long-time member of the UFC welterweight top-10, would be leaving the UFC and joining the Bellator MMA roster. This largely unexpected twist marked one of Bellator’s most significant signings to date.
Of course, MacDonald isn’t the only high-profile fighter Bellator has picked up recently. In early February of this year, the organization also locked up the services of former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (23-6).
Unfortunately, however, Henderson’s Bellator debut did not go the way he planned. Having spent his last two fights at welterweight, he made his Bellator debut opposite the organization’s dynamic welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov, and lost a decisive unanimous decision.
The silver lining of Henderson’s loss to Koreshkov is that it finally seemed to wake him up to the fact that, as big as he looks as a lightweight, he’s simply too small to hang with the welterweight division’s top fighters. Having realized this, he has set his sights on a return to the lightweight division. That lightweight return will occur on this very night, in the main event of Bellator 160.
In typical Bellator fashion, however, Henderson’s sophomore effort is a bit of a strange one. While he could have easily been paired with one of the organization’s top lightweights—say, Saad Awad, Josh Thompson or Derek Campos—he’ll instead return to action opposite former featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (25-3). And he’ll do so with a lightweight title shot on the line. That’s right, this showdown between a fighter who spent his last three contests at welterweight, and another fighter who has spent his entire career at featherweight, is expected to produce the next challenger for Michael Chandler’s lightweight title. A bit of a head-scratcher to say the least.
While Henderson vs. Freire is far from your typical number-one-contender fight, however, it is certainly a compelling one in the way that, no matter who wins, Bellator will have an interesting lightweight title fight on their hands.
If Henderson gets back on track with a win over Freire, as the odds suggest he will (he’s a -240 favorite), then we get an exciting title fight between a former UFC champion and a current Bellator champion. If Freire betrays the odds, meanwhile, then we get a title fight with a built-in revenge narrative, as Chandler won the title by flattening Freire’s older brother Patricky. Yes, no matter the outcome of Bellator 160’s main event, Bellator gets a marketable lightweight title fight out of it.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this fight, however, is that it’ll answer all the questions we have about Henderson. Despite his departure from the UFC, despite his lopsided loss to Koreshkov in his Bellator debut, despite his occasional retirement talk, there’s no reason to believe he isn’t still one of the best lightweights on the planet. If he defeats the talented Freire, he reaffirms this status as a top-flight lightweight, and sets himself up for another shot at his third major MMA title. If he loses to the much smaller Freire, however, his reputation as a premier lightweight will take a serious blow. Yes, this fight should give us a real sense of where Henderson currently stands—whether he still belongs on lightweight ranking lists, or if he’s embarking on the decline that all fighters inevitably face as their careers wind on.
All this to say that, as we excitedly discuss Bellator’s signing of Rory MacDonald, we shouldn’t forget that Henderson, who unlike MacDonald, actually won and defended UFC gold, will look to regain his footing opposite a very dangerous foe this very evening. Catch Henderson atop the Bellator 160 main card, which kicks of on Spike TV at 10:00pm ET.
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