Following his victory over Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night in South Korea, Benson Henderson’s contract expired, making him one of the most coveted free agents in mixed martial arts.
While the former UFC lightweight king wants to retire with the Las Vegas-based promotion, he also professed a desire to ”test the market” at last Saturday’s post-fight press conference. It would only make sense then that Bellator MMA, which is backed by the deep pockets of Viacom, would emerge as a logical suitor in the Henderson sweepstakes.
For now, however, the Bellator is playing it cool when it comes to courting the services of the Lab MMA representative.
“I think that my guys have reached out just to see if he is actually a free agent because sometimes they have an exclusive negotiation period, so we’re going to wait and see wait his contract status is,” Bellator President Scott Coker told Sherdog.com. “If he is free, then yeah we’re going to start talking to him.”
The California-based promotion has dealt with messy contract situations with its own fighters in the past, but ugly negotiations with the likes of Eddie Alvarez and Quinton Jackson were largely a product of the Bjorn Rebney regime. Perhaps a more apt comparison for Henderson’s status would be Gilbert Melendez, who used his free agency to leverage a lucrative deal with the UFC, including an immediate title shot against then lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
After a lengthy and successful tenure at 155 pounds, Henderson has reinvented himself at welterweight, posting victories over Masvidal and Brandon Thatch in his last two outings. In Bellator, a return to lightweight and a date with reigning champion Will Brooks could be appealing to “Smooth.” Apparently responding to a deluge of social media inquiries, Brooks took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the matter.
“They say there’s no such thing as stupid questions but you’re pushing it. If Bendo came over of course I would fight him,” Brooks wrote. “Since day one I signed up for this job I said I wanted to fight the best, and he’s one of the best.”
After Henderson defeated Masvidal, he took off his gloves in the Octagon, perhaps signaling a new direction in his career. Whether he makes a big change or stays put, there will be plenty of interested parties looking to influence his next move, including, eventually, Bellator.
“We’d love to have a fighter like Henderson on the roster, “Coker said, “but we’re gonna do it the right way and make sure that he’s free to actually have a conversation.”