At UFC Fight Night 60, former lightweight champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson dazzled us all with an impressive welterweight debut. In the evening’s main event—a fight he took on short notice—he tested the waters at this heavier weight class against massive striker, Brandon Thatch.
Thatch saw his moments early in the bout, but in the end, Henderson found his groove and locked up a fourth round rear-naked choke, reminding all onlookers that he remains one of the world’s best—be it as a lightweight, or as a welterweight. That simple fact puts Henderson in a very unique situation. Alongside a $50,000 Fight of the Night check, he’s now got his foot in the door in two of the UFC’s most stacked divisions. As a result, he has a plethora of choices available to him.
Perhaps the more sensible choices for Henderson exist in the lightweight division, where he once wore gold. There, he enjoys a bit of strength advantage, and has proven time and time again that he can hang with the best. Should he choose to return to these old haunts, matchups with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez, and even rematches with the likes of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Gilbert Melendez sell themselves. As a lightweight, Benson Henderson will always have choices abound.
But let’s imagine—because it’s a real possibility—that Henderson waves goodbye to lightweight and commits to a renewed career at welterweight. Should he choose that road, its twists and turns are likely to provide some truly intriguing matchups.
The first and most obvious on the long list of potential Henderson matchups is a fight with Rory MacDonald—it’s a fight Henderson asked for in his post-fight interview, after all. Now, we have to give props to him for his bravery, but really, that fight doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Yes, “Smooth” looked solid in Colorado, but Rory MacDonald is not Brandon Thatch. Instead, he’s a welterweight who nearly matches Thatch in size, but is also amply more skilled, well-rounded and battle-tested. As good as Henderson looked in Colorado, a scrap with MacDonald is far less likely to go his way. Furthermore, for all his accolades, it’s not really a fight that Henderson has earned. He’s still got some work to do before he dabbles in the welterweight top 5. MacDonald, on the other hand, probably just deserves a title shot. At this stage, it’s just not the right fight for either man.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other options for the former lightweight champion.
One that jumps to mind is a fight with former title challenger Thiago Alves, who is in the midst of his own career resurgence. After a long, tepid stretch of interspersed wins and losses, Alves now rides a two fight-streak and is once again ready to mix it up with top-level fighters. Henderson fits that bill perfectly. Furthermore, the pairing of their two styles—of Henderson’s grappling and Alves striking, or simply the collision of Alves’ legendary leg kicks and Henderson’s tree trunk legs—make it a very intriguing fight. And Henderson’s options don’t end there.
Dong Hyun Kim, a stifling grappler turned knockout artist, will also soon be looking for an opponent. Having recently lost to Tyron Woodley, the massive Korean is surely eager for a chance to correct his course. Sure, logic dictates that Joe Silva will match Kim up with another fighter coming off a loss, but a Henderson vs. Kim fight could be one for the books. Not only are both men spectacular grapplers, but their shared willingness to swap leather would probably lead to a fan-pleasing gun fight.
Another fighter who will soon be looking for a dance partner is Rick Story, who recently had a career revivifying performance against Gunnar Nelson. Not only would a Story-Henderson pairing probably be a thrilling affair, but it also makes sense from a ranking standpoint, as both men hover somewhere on the outside of the top 10. On the other hand, Henderson’s championship accolades—and the fact that he just saved a fight card— might put him on the matchmaking fast track, which opens the door to some wild and high-stakes bouts.
One such fight, though it might be a bit of a stretch, is seriously fun to think about. Imagine Benson Henderson, onetime lightweight king and toothpick chewing badass welcoming a mended, former interim champion in Carlos Condit back to the Octagon. Sure, it’s certainly a big jump for the newly welterweight Henderson, but between Condit’s constant aggression, and Henderson’s slick grappling, it would undoubtedly be one hell of a fight. And really, as fight fans, that’s all we’re after.
Just weeks ago, Benson Henderson was on a two fight losing streak at lightweight and was being pegged as a masochist for taking a fight with the much, much, much larger Brandon Thatch. Today, he’s back in the win-column, having felled a giant in a brand new division. For the former 155lb kingpin, things went from very bad to very good, very quickly. He has now has the momentum to make an intriguing lightweight or return, or, should he so choose, make an attempt a welterweight title run. Whatever route the former champ chooses, he’s suddenly got a breadth of options that very few other fighters are afforded. Let’s just hope he doesn’t choke on that toothpick.
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