When Benson Henderson steps into the Octagon to face Nathan Diaz on December 8, he will do so as the defending UFC lightweight champion. Despite the fact that Henderson will clearly be in possession of UFC gold when he walks to the cage, there will undoubtedly be rumblings that he’s not really the champion. His detractors claim that he was gifted the win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 144, which gave him the title, as well as the victory over Edgar in their rematch at UFC 150.
One would think that a fighter coming off two close decision victories would be spending the time leading up to his next fight talking up how he is going to go in and make a statement in his next fight.
Not Henderson, that’s not his style. In fact, the champion seems to find that type of talk distasteful:
“It would be kind of offensive if I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to go in there and knock out Nate Diaz, no problem.’ No, I’m not going to say that, Nate Diaz is tough, he’s darn tough and I’m going to go out there and get my hand raised in any way possible.”
Henderson will have his hands full with Diaz, a fighter that enters their title fight on a three-fight winning streak, a streak that coincides with his return to the lightweight division after losing two straight bouts at welterweight. Diaz also has the distinction of claiming “Fight Night” bonuses in each of those three wins, picking up two “Submission of the Night” checks and one “Fight of the Night” award.
When it comes to getting the victory over Diaz, Henderson said he’ll take it any way that he can, even if it is comes with the assist of some fruit:
I’m trying to get my hand raised however I can get it. If he trips over a banana peel, I’ll take it. If it’s a decisive victory, I’ll take it. If it’s a razor thin decision, even closer than the second Frankie fight, I’ll take that too. Getting the W is not easy to come by in the UFC, against literally the best guys on the planet. I’ll take it any way I can get it.
Don’t let Henderson’s words come across as a lack of confidence, for him it’s more about examining the reality of the situation. He’s at the pinnacle of his sport; right now, the belt he carries with him defines him as the number one lightweight in the UFC, as such he knows there are no easy opponents or victories.
“Sometimes when you’re fighting the best guys on the planet, you just can’t make it as easy as that, you can’t make it super decisive.”
Henderson still has his doubters, and barring an incredibly one-sided victory over Diaz on the December 8 card, he will most likely still have doubters even if he retains his belt. However, Henderson feels that through time and effort he will gain his fair share of supporters:
It’s just a matter of staying on that grind, keep doing what I’m doing, and eventually, if I keep winning and putting the work in everything else will fall into place. It’s not something I don’t try and be too worried about and think about too much.
I got big shoes to fill if I want to be one of the greatest lightweights of all time; I’ve got huge shoes to fill, and I’m excited to get that chance.
The next step toward filling those shoes will be broadcast live on Fox from Seattle’s Key Arena on December 8.
**all quotes obtained first hand by BR/MMA