Benson “Smooth” Henderson is 5-0 since joining the UFC. | File Photo: Sherdog.com
Benson Henderson, like all champions, places a premium on victory.
Henderson will defend the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown for a second time when he meets “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner Nate Diaz in the UFC on Fox 5 main event this Saturday at the Key Arena in Seattle. “Smooth” has enjoyed a meteoric rise, from deposed World Extreme Cagefighting champion to pound-for-pound royalty in less than two years.
Henderson has won all five of his fights since transitioning to the UFC as part of the WEC merger, two of them five-round affairs with former 155-pound boss Frankie Edgar. He dethroned “The Answer” by unanimous decision at UFC 144 in February and then denied him by split verdict in their rematch six months later. Henderson anticipates an equally competitive encounter with Diaz.
“As far as beating Nate [goes], I’m just looking for a victory,” he said during a pre-fight media call for UFC on Fox 5. “If he slips on a banana peel, I’ll take it. If it’s even closer than the second Frankie fight, I’ll take that, too. Getting the W is very difficult in the UFC.
“We all fight to be as decisive as possible, but sometimes, when you’re fighting the best guys on the planet, it’s almost offensive to say you’ll finish your opponent [with] no problem,” Henderson added. “I’ll try to get my hand raised as much as possible.”
Trained by Royce Gracie protégé John Crouch at the MMA Lab in Arizona, Henderson has yet to reap the mainstream rewards of gold-bearing counterparts like Junior dos Santos, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, all of whom have struck major endorsement deals. However, with continued success inside the Octagon, he believes his time will come. Henderson’s road now runs through Diaz.
“I just need to continue doing what I’m doing,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. If you want to be the best MMA promoter and build your company up, it takes time. You have to lay the ground work, stay on that grind, stay at it and, eventually, you get those big, huge national deals. If you put the work in, it will fall into place.”
An Anxious ‘Ares’
Rory MacDonald has fought only once in the last 16 months -- he stopped Che Mills on second-round punches at UFC 145 in April -- so it should come as little surprise that the 23-year-old Canadian is chomping at the bit ahead of his battle against former two-division champion B.J. Penn.
“I just want to fight more often. Quality [opponent] or whatever, I don’t care,” he said. “After this fight with B.J., I’ll be ready to fight by March, as long as I keep my weight in check. It won’t be a problem for me to take a fight on short notice. As far as how I changed things up with how I’m training, it will work out with me fighting more.”
During his tenure in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, MacDonald has been forced to withdraw from three scheduled bouts because of injury: UFC 123 against Matt Brown, UFC 140 against Brian Ebersole and UFC 152 against Penn. Those missteps cost MacDonald valuable cage time and likely slowed his ascent within the welterweight division.
“I’m being a little bit more smart with my training in terms of taking days off,” he said. “Before, I never took days off, even if I was hurt. If I feel my body breaking down a bit, I’ll take a day off [now]. It’s been keeping me healthy, and I think, for me, health is the most important thing. I’m in shape all year, and, if I’m healthy, I can fight on a minute’s notice. I just need to be healthy, that’s all.”
MacDonald will enter the Octagon against Penn with the knowledge that St. Pierre, one of his training partners at the Tristar Gym in Montreal, defeated the Hawaiian twice. Still, at least publicly, he has kept his distance from the longtime welterweight champion.
“I didn’t really ask him anything,” MacDonald said. “I watched his fights and he told me a few things, but I’m not the kind of guy that wants to know everything about somebody. I really don’t care. For all I know, B.J. could have changed his training and [become] a muay Thai fighter now. I just get better as a martial artist, and I react to what’s in there.”
This & That
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who collides with Alexander Gustafsson in the co-headliner, has not won back-to-back fights since he defeated UFC hall of famers Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell in 2009 ... American Kickboxing Academy mainstay Mike Swick has 11 finishes on his resume, and five of them have come in 75 seconds or less ... No one on the UFC on Fox 5 lineup has been fighting longer than American Top Team’s Yves Edwards, who made his professional debut on Oct. 26, 1997 ... Alliance MMA’s Mike Easton owns a 7-0 mark in bouts that reach the judges ... Tim Means was a three-division champion in the King of the Cage promotion ... Eight of the 20 fighters on the UFC on Fox 5 roster are “Ultimate Fighter” alums: Swick (Season 1), Diaz (Season 5), Brown (Season 7), Nam Phan (Season 12), Ramsey Nijem (Season 13), John Albert (Season 14), Joe Proctor (Season 15) and Daron Cruickshank (Season 15).