#UFC Fight Night 126 #Donald Cerrone #Yancy Medeiros #Derrick Lewis #Marcin Tybura #UFC Fight Night 57 #James Vick #Francisco Trinaldo #Sage Northcutt #Bellator 194

Despite mixed results, high hopes for ex-UFC fighters in Bellator

(This story appears in today’s print edition of USA TODAY.)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson once was considered the best 155-pound MMA fighter on the planet.

Now, four years after his time on the throne, and three fights into his run at Bellator MMA, Henderson is staring at a 1-2 record in his new promotional home.

“I feel like Bellator definitely deserves a couple of great performances,” Henderson told MMAjunkie on Thursday. “I haven’t given Bellator great performances, and I feel like they deserve me giving them a few great performances.”

There have been extenuating circumstances, to be sure. Competing in all three contests with a torn ACL – since surgically repaired – certainly couldn’t have helped. And facing then-welterweight champ Andrey Koreshkov and then-lightweight champ Michael Chandler, both of whom reside in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA rankings in their respective divisions, ensured Henderson didn’t have an easy run after departing the UFC.

On Saturday, Henderson (24-7 MMA, 1-2 BMMA) has an opportunity to right the ship when he takes on Brazilian knockout artist Patricky Freire (17-8, 10-7) in the main event of Bellator 183, which airs on Spike (9 p.m. ET) from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

For Henderson, who will turn 34 in November, the result could prove telling in terms of what he still has to offer the sport nearly 11 years into his professional career. But the former UFC standout’s performance also could hold significance as either a beaming example or cautionary tale of what happens to fighters who leave MMA’s top promotion seeking greener pastures in the only company that currently can claim to be a competitive threat.

“Bellator is not a victory lap,” Bellator broadcast analyst Jimmy Smith said. “Can Benson Henderson … stay in the danger zone long enough to win a fight against a guy who, with one shot, can put him away? That’s the question.”

Henderson is not alone in his struggles to adjust to life in the Bellator cage. Prized welterweight free agent Lorenz Larkin (18-6, 0-1) debuted for the promotion in June and suffered a lackluster decision loss to current champ Diego Lima. “The Monsoon” fights at Bellator 183, as well, against veteran British slugger Paul Daley (39-15-2, 5-2).

Fan favorite heavyweight Roy Nelson (22-14, 0-0), who fought 19 times under the UFC banner, will make his promotional debut at Bellator 183, as well, and will try to avoid a similar stumble in his first appearance.

“It’s just been exciting,” Nelson said of the buildup. “Like when you wake up for a new job, even though it’s the same old job, but you’re just like, ‘This is a new job,’ and you want to put your best foot forward? You’re just excited, and I’m just excited to get back in there.”

The trio of recent UFC fighters are part of a growing list of octagon veterans now gracing the Bellator roster. There’s no question the UFC remains the dominant brand in the space, but Bellator President Scott Coker, who once presided over a Strikeforce promotion that employed fighters such as Daniel Cormier, Cris Cyborg, Robbie Lawler, Luke Rockhold and Tyron Woodley before they were UFC champions, believes his current company is primed for continued growth.

“It’s not about the league – it’s about the athlete,” Coker said.

For more on Bellator 183, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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