SAN JOSE, Calif. – John Crouch looked toward the ceiling and tried to focus his thoughts. He was trying to explain the sequence of events that led him to become UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson's mixed martial arts coach.

Henderson is now one of the best fighters in the world, and will defend his belt against Gilbert Melendez Saturday at the HP Pavilion in the main event of UFC on Fox 7. Crouch is one of the sport's elite coaches, helping to guide the careers of Henderson, flyweight contender John Moraga, ex-WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner and former "The Ultimate Fighter" winner Efrain Escudero, among others.

Today, Crouch works out of a sparkling gym in Glendale, Ariz., where he does a strong private business. But at the time he met Henderson, he was working in virtual obscurity in Denver.

Crouch was preparing Alvin Robinson to meet Kenny Florian at UFC 73 on July 7, 2007. Robinson's college roommate was a friend of a collegiate wrestling teammate of Henderson's. Through that very loose connection, word was delivered to Crouch that Henderson was interested in helping Robinson train.

So began a relationship that has become one of the sport's most fruitful.

Henderson is 18-2 overall, but he's won six in a row and 16 of his last 17. Since teaming with Crouch for a Dec. 7, 2007, fight, he's 15-1. There are few glaring flaws in his game and he seemingly gets 25 percent better with each passing fight.

[Related: Daniel Cormier noncommital about future following Frank Mir]

Melendez, himself regarded as one of the world's two or three best lightweights, noticed the improvement in Henderson's game over the years.

"I've followed him since [he was in the WEC]," Melendez said. "Honestly … [when he was] in WEC, I wasn't impressed. As soon as he made his UFC debut, I was like, 'Man, this guy is really good.' His next fight, he looked even better. He constantly improved and I really respect the dude. He's constantly getting [better], so it is good that I'm fighting him now. Who knows in three years how good he'll be?"

Henderson's development into an elite champion is no secret. He's stolen a page from Floyd Mayweather with his hard work and dedication.

When Crouch first got a look at Henderson, he saw a lot of things, but he didn't see a high-level MMA fighter.

"He was in great shape and he worked really hard," Crouch said of Henderson.

[Related: Jon Jones apologizes for comments on Chael Sonnen and steroids]

Henderson added something to his game with each fight. In time, when Crouch would see an image of a Henderson fight flickering on his screen, he'd silently laugh.

He had difficulty recognizing the old Henderson.

"I look back a couple of years ago and see where Ben is now and it's like, 'Wow,' " Crouch said.

Henderson works relentlessly to improve. If the coaching staff finds something in a fight that he's not doing well, chances are that flaw is fixed by the timeout.

He rarely makes the same mistake two fights in a row because he's so committed to learning and improving.

When it comes down to it, though, the reason is simple: It's not for money or glory or fame or titles.

"I hate to lose," Henderson said. "I hate losing. Hate it."

Not many athletes like it, but few are as motivated as Henderson. His last loss came in 2010, when he was beaten in the final fight in World Extreme Cagefighting history by Anthony Pettis' famous Showtime kick.

The kick came in the waning seconds of an excruciatingly close match. If Pettis didn't land it, Henderson may well have won.

But Pettis did and Henderson didn't, and the result is a vastly changed man.

"I'm a pretty highly self-motivated person," Henderson said. "I don't need any extra fuel, this and that, 'Oh, this guy talked crap about me.' I didn't like feeling the way I felt after my last loss and I don't intend to feel that way again."

[Related: Veteran Frank Mir can be Daniel Cormier's steppingstone]

Melendez has seen firsthand how much Henderson has improved. Henderson throttled Nate Diaz, Melendez' close friend and teammate, in his last outing.

Diaz had plenty to say to Melendez about Henderson and not much of it was bad.

"Nate was able to tell me how agile this guy is and how athletic this guy is and how tricky he is and how tactical he is," Melendez said.

He's an agile, athletic, tricky, tactical guy who has mastered the art of putting all forms of fighting together. He moves seamlessly from move to move and is as comfortable fighting a wrestler as he is a striker.

Melendez was a collegiate wrestler, but he's also become renowned for his striking. He likes the way he's seen Henderson morph into the total package, as well.

"He's a fighter who's a new breed," Melendez said. "He's a complete MMA fighter. Everyone seems to be the wrestler, or the striker, or the grappler. He's the MMA fighter, you know what I mean? He's everything. His strength is that he can put it all together."

An underappreciated aspect of Henderson's game is his willingness to withstand punishment. He didn't tap despite being caught in some serious submissions by Donald Cerrone in the WEC.

[Also: Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had boxing aspirations | Photos]

"He's mentally tougher than just about anyone you know," Crouch said.

But Crouch beamed. He asked when was the last time Henderson was in trouble. When it took a long time to come up with an answer, he nodded his head.

"That's what I mean, look at the way this guy progresses," Crouch said. "He loves to learn and evolve and he's taken things from his game that might have been weaknesses a couple of years ago and turned them into strengths. He's successful because he puts everything of himself into it."

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Pat Forde grades college basketball's recent coach hirings
Ball Don't Lie Power Rankings: First-round playoff matchups
Yankees' Derek Jeter out until after the All-Star break

view original article >>

Report here if this news is invalid.

Related News

Benson Henderson Prepares for Bellator Debut with Weight of Expectations

  • 28 days ago
  • 10 views

Of all the names that have bolted to Bellator from the UFC, Benson Henderson is the one that most surprised the mixed martial arts establishment. On a win streak, and upon increasing his value by fig read news >>

Why Jon Jones decided to step up and not pull out of UFC 197 (Yahoo Sports)

  • 28 days ago
  • 20 views

From Yahoo Sports: The ex-champ declined a replacement bout at UFC 151, but he has a change of heart regarding fighting Ovince Saint Preux. read news >>

Why Jon Jones decided to step up and not pull out of UFC 197 (Yahoo Sports)

  • 28 days ago
  • 2 views

From Yahoo Sports: The ex-champ declined a replacement bout at UFC 151, but he has a change of heart regarding fighting Ovince Saint Preux. read news >>

Derrick Lewis still looking to be as sharp as his sense of humor (Yahoo Sports)

  • 26 days ago
  • 1 views

From Yahoo Sports: The UFC heavyweight has won two in a row, but says he’s still working to reach his potential. read news >>

Derrick Lewis still looking to be as sharp as his sense of humor (Yahoo Sports)

  • 26 days ago
  • 9 views

From Yahoo Sports: The UFC heavyweight has won two in a row, but says he’s still working to reach his potential. read news >>

Knockout Radio LIVE: Jon Jones Coach Greg Jackson and the Week’s Top Stories

  • 26 days ago
  • 8 views

Tune in Wednesday, April 6, at 6 p.m. EST, for Knockout Radio LIVE! with MMA coach extraordinaire Greg Jackson and a discussion on the week's top MMA news! read news >>

Benson Henderson unsure about future of free agency, but says fighters should be smarter

  • 26 days ago
  • 9 views

Benson Henderson said the biggest issue in MMA, especially as we hit a new era of free agency, is simply the youth of the sport as a whole.Filed under: Bellator, News read news >>

Knockout Radio Podcast: Jon Jones Coach Greg Jackson and the Week’s Top Stories

  • 25 days ago
  • 5 views

Join Knockout Radio for the podcast of their April 6 broadcast as Randy Harris and the crew talk with MMA coach Greg Jackson and discuss the week's top MMA news! read news >>

Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber finding new ways to annoy each other all these years later (Yahoo Sports)

  • 25 days ago
  • 20 views

From Yahoo Sports: Cruz and Faber aren't pulling any punches ahead of their long-awaited trilogy fight. read news >>

Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber finding new ways to annoy each other all these years later (Yahoo Sports)

  • 25 days ago
  • 16 views

From Yahoo Sports: Cruz and Faber aren't pulling any punches ahead of their long-awaited trilogy fight. read news >>