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In 2016, Sherdog.com debuted a weekly series titled “MMA’s Greats of the States.” As the title implies, each edition highlighted the most accomplished mixed martial artist from one of the 50 states. A lot has happened in five years, and some all-time greats have been overtaken — or are looking over their shoulders, at least. It’s time to update the series. As with the original, fighters will be paired with the state they are most closely associated with, by their own reckoning as well as in the eye of the public. As Sherdog contributor Mike Sloan, creator of the original series, pointed out: Robbie Lawler may have been born in San Diego, but few would call him a Californian.
Arizona: Benson HendersonHonorable Mentions: Cain Velasquez, Justin Gaethje, Ryan Bader, Kelvin Gastelum
2016 Selection: Benson Henderson
2016 Honorable Mentions: Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader, Jamie Varner, C.B. Dollaway
The last five years haven’t been all “Smooth” sailing for Henderson, but for the time being he remains the most accomplished mixed martial artist to hail from the Grand Canyon State.
In the time since the original article was published in January 2016, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champ took off immediately for Bellator MMA, where he was expected to be a contender at 170 as well as 155 pounds. That turned out to be the case — he has fought for both titles — and while he has fallen short thus far in his quest to add another belt to his trophy case, his 5-5 record in Bellator has come against some of the best fighters in that promotion.
Behind Henderson there is a bit of a logjam. Velasquez has fought just twice since the original series, with a dominant win over Travis Browne and a devastating loss to Francis Ngannou, and appears to be retired for good. However, he remains on the short list of the greatest heavyweights of all time, which makes it difficult for any of his fellow Arizonans to pass him. Like Henderson, Bader decamped to Bellator, where he has gone 8-2 with one no-contest on the way to becoming a two-division champion.
In the next few years, the biggest threat to pass Velasquez and Henderson might be the new blood: Gaethje is 22-3, with all three losses coming to champions, he won a UFC interim lightweight title and is likely to get another shot at gold within the next year. Gastelum won Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and had a promising run at welterweight before multiple weight failures forced him up to 185 pounds, where he challenged for the title and remains a contender.