From where Benson Henderson is sitting, he really was only going along with the new trend.
Henderson (18-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC), the UFC’s lightweight champion, recently made a few waves when it was reported that he put in a request for a superfight with welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre (23-2 MMA, 17-2 UFC). It was news only for a short time when UFC President Dana White basically shot it down before it could take flight.
Henderson has a title defense coming up in April against Gilbert Melendez (21-2 MMA, 11-1 SF, 0-0 UFC) in the main event of UFC on FOX 7 in San Jose, Calif. St-Pierre defends his title next week in the main event of UFC 158 in Montreal.
As far as the recent spate of so-called superfights go, Chael Sonnen is getting a title shot against Jon Jones in his first fight back at light heavyweight after a middleweight title loss to Anderson Silva. Frankie Edgar lost back-to-back lightweight title fights to Henderson, then dropped to featherweight and got a title shot against Jose Aldo. Despite being told he was the new next in line for a lightweight title shot against Henderson, Anthony Pettis is dropping down to featherweight to face Aldo. And if Aldo wins that one, he has been told he gets to move up to lightweight to go after the belt there.
All that, and we haven’t even brought up the ones everyone has been asking for for a while – St-Pierre vs. Silva and Silva vs. Jones.
Confused yet? So too, apparently, was Henderson, who thought maybe that’s just the way the game is played these days.
“Everyone’s going out calling out fights: ‘Oh, I want to fight this guy, I want to fight that guy,’” Henderson on Monday told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “I didn’t know – if that’s how the UFC works, if that’s the type of organization it is where you can just willy-nilly go around calling out who you want to fight next, then sure. If that’s how the UFC as a business operates, you call out who you want next, and that’s your next guy, I understand that. I’ll do that – I’ll call out who I want next.
“But if that’s not how it’s supposed to work, if that’s just a fluke, just one or two rare cases of it happening in the UFC and you’re not supposed to call out who you want next, then whatever. Cool – I won’t call out who I want next and I’ll face whoever they put in front of me, like always.”
Henderson said his coach and management team was part of the decision to ask about the viability of a shot at St-Pierre for after the fight with Melendez, and that when it comes to doing such things, he believes it’s most prudent for the smaller fighter to ask for a shot at the bigger fighter – not the other way around.
Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Pettis at 155 asked for the shot at Aldo at 145 – and that Pettis and Henderson have just a little bit of history behind them. Henderson lost his WEC lightweight title to Pettis at WEC 53, the promotion’s final event. And if Henderson beats Melendez next month, Pettis would’ve been his next opponent in a rematch.
“If I’m going to call someone out, I don’t want to call someone out who’s smaller than me,” Henderson said. “I want to call out someone who’s bigger than me. So let’s do the next weight class up.”
It’s moot, for now, of course. Henderson said he hasn’t wavered his focus on what’s next, which is Melendez, though. Melendez is making his UFC debut after a long run in Strikeforce, and Henderson knows what it’s like to be the new kid on the bigger block coming over from the little brother promotion.
He did the same thing moving from the WEC to the UFC in 2011.
“People don’t realize how tough Gil is,” he said. “Gil has been a top two, three on the planet at 155 for a long time. He’s a tough fighter, he comes from a great team and he’s going to have a great game plan. I know how tough he is. He has big wins over some of the top-name 155-pounders who have been up there for a long time. I think as soon as people start realizing how tough he is and how good he really is, then they’ll come around.”
Henderson is giving Melendez the home-cage advantage fighting near his Bay Area training base in San Jose, but said he relishes the chance to fight in hostile territory. He did it in his UFC debut at UFC 129 in front of 55,000 Canadian fans who wanted to see Mark Bocek beat him.
But Melendez also gets the advantage of having cornered teammate Nate Diaz in his five-round title fight loss to Henderson in December. More advantage for Melendez? Maybe. But Henderson said it’s on him and his team to be ready for that.
“If you get a chance to watch your opponent up close and personal, coaching against him, of course you’re going to be able to take some things away,” Henderson said. “He and his team are smart – they’re going to take away a lot of good stuff from that fight. They have 25 minutes of up close, personal information to take away from it. So it’s my team’s job to make sure we bring more stuff to the table.”
And maybe after that, with a win, he can resurrect some GSP talk. If, of course, that’s how the game is played.
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