After his Bellator MMA signing was met with much fanfare, Benson Henderson received a cold dose of reality in his promotional debut.
The MMA Lab stalwart marched into his 170-pound title bout against Andrey Koreshkov as a significant favorite, but he left Bellator 153 a humbled man after a lopsided decision loss to the Russian champion.
Fortunately for Henderson, he has proven to be a versatile and resilient competitor, and he will have another golden opportunity on Friday in his old 155-pound stomping grounds when he locks horns with Patricio Freire in the Bellator 160 headliner. At stake is a lightweight title shot against current kingpin Michael Chandler.
Henderson recently told Sherdog.com that he was presented the option of waiting for Chandler to heal from a broken hand, but “Smooth” preferred to stay active.
“I have a pretty short window of opportunity in which to pursue my career….So I want to take advantage of that,” he said. “I want to fight as much as possible. Chandler was hurt. Josh Thomson had concussion problems. They said, ‘Do you want to wait around for Chandler to heal up?’ I was like, ‘Come on man, you already know the answer to that question.’”
Freire, the ex-featherweight champion, would seem to be an unlikely opponent considering he has spent his entire promotional tenure at 145 pounds and still has designs on reclaiming the title he recently lost to Daniel Straus. However, Freire also wants to get his hands on Chandler after the two men engaged in a post-fight shouting match when the champion knocked out the Brazilian’s brother, Patricky, at Bellator 157.
“They asked him, and I think they said he said no at first. He was a little bit leery but then they sweetened up the pot. They told him that I would probably get a title shot after winning. [Bellator told Freire] If you take the fight and you win you get a title shot if you win,” Henderson said. “That’s ultimately what sold him on the idea of squaring off against me.”
While Henderson struggled against the larger Koreshkov, he will have a size and reach advantage against Freire come fight night. According to Henderson, strength isn’t really the issue at welterweight; it’s the range and reach that caused him problems.
“I think I’m a little bit stronger than some of the other guys, but it’s pretty small, negligible amount the strength difference [at lightweight],” he said. “I think a bigger difference is the reach. I think it’s a huge difference of reach and whether your opponent has plus five inches on you or whether you have plus three inches on your opponent. I think that’s a big deal.
“My fight against Andrey I think he did a great job using his reach. That’s one of the best things he did….Against Patricio I think I’ll have the reach advantage and definitely the height advantage. That will play a factor into the fight for sure.”
Despite those initial struggles against Koreshkov, Henderson has experienced success at 170 pounds before, earning victories against Jorge Masvidal and Brandon Thatch in his final two Octagon appearances. And he isn’t ruling out a return to welterweight in Bellator if the right opportunity arises.
“Bellator signed me for big fights. Whether it’s big fights at 155 or big fights at 170, that’s what I’m here for,” Henderson said. “And I think if they were to offer me a contract to go against Andrey tomorrow at 170 for five rounds, no problem. Done. Sign me up. I think as a professional athlete you have to the utmost confidence in yourself. I got my butt kicked in the last fight. Andrey did a great job, but if we were to face off against each other again there is no doubt in my mind I would leave the cage with my hand raised. That’s just the nature of sport.”