Benson Henderson: Can He Become a Mainstream Star?
If I were to describe to somebody a current professional athlete who had a catchy nickname, an outstanding record, and was the winner of a championship, that person would probably say I was describing a mainstream star in whatever sport the said athlete was in.
When I tell that person I am describing UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson, the response will most likely be, "Who?".
Sadly enough, if I were to do the same to a casual MMA fan, I would probably get the same response more often than not. For whatever reason, Henderson is not garnering the same star power as fellow UFC champions Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, or even Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz.
"Smooth" has amassed an 18-2 professional record including a perfect 6-0 clip within the UFC. During a very successful 2012 campaign, he beat Frankie Edgar for the lightweight belt in February, beat Edgar again in August, and most recently dominated Nate Diaz.
After each Henderson victory, I don't get a sense of the same buzz from fans as I do from a win by the other champs. Instead of talking about how well-rounded his fighting is, it appears fans are not enthused or impressed with his performances.
Perhaps the lasting image of Anthony Pettis launching himself off the cage and landing flush on Henderson's face is what people still take away from Henderson's career. Or maybe, just maybe, fans are convinced that he lost one if not both fights to Edgar earlier this year and don't consider him the true champion.
"Bendo" appears to have all of the makings of being a mainstream star for the UFC. He's an exciting fighter who has a great attitude, doesn't get into trouble, and has shown he can be charismatic on camera whether in post-fight interviews or when he's in the broadcast booth.
It could just be the division he's in. The closing thing to a champion considered a mainstream star in the lightweight division was B.J. Penn. He held the belt for a little over two years, and before that the champions were Sean Sherk and Jens Pulver dating back to 2001.
Time will tell if Henderson can develop into a true star. The storm appears to be brewing for him to match up with Gilbert Melendez sometime in 2013. Many consider Melendez to be the top lightweight in the world.
The fight is nowhere near close to being put together as of this writing, but I can imagine Henderson walking through Melendez and fans still shrugging their shoulders while saying, "not impressed, who's next?"
Then again, are there really any true mainstream MMA stars that the average person would recognize by name or face?
Joe Chacon is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeChacon.
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