It must be a strange experience to be as good as Benson Henderson and to continually be viewed with suspicion by a cynical section of the MMA fanbase.
Just how proficient must one be at one’s chosen profession in order to gain majority approval?
It is a phenomenon that is almost unique to the sporting world. In no other walk of life can you be that good at something and still expect to be derided for not being good enough.
Imagine being one of the top five physicists on the planet.
That would be an astonishing achievement. Indeed, you could expect your local town or city to erect a statue in your honour, or name a day after you.
Heck, if you were one of the top five plumbers on the planet, you would likely receive more love than has the UFC’s lightweight champion.
Fortunately, Benson Henderson’s recent dismantling of Nate Diaz seems to have altered this perception for the better.
No longer viewed as a paper champion who reigns at the whim of the ringside judges, Henderson now boasts something approaching legitimacy in the eyes of most fans.
Then again, how long this perception lasts remains to be seen. Sports fans tend to be afflicted by a curious form of retrograde amnesia that prevents them from remembering anything beyond the immediate past.
MMA can perhaps lay claim to having the ultimate “what have you done for me lately?” fanbase. It is a cliché to say that in sport you are only as good as your last performance, but it is certainly true in mixed martial arts.
Fighters on the verge of contending for a title routinely fall out of favour after a solitary off-night. One needn’t even lose in order to experience this, as was the case with Henderson when he “merely” scraped past Frankie Edgar twice in 2012.
It didn’t matter that “Bendo” had bulldozed his way through a murderer’s row of contenders en route to his crack at the lightweight title. It only mattered that, once there, he didn’t wear the relatively diminutive Edgar around like a hat for 25 minutes.
Who could deal with such expectations? Controversial or not, one would think that winning a world title in almost any fashion is a guarantor of respect.
But while respect might have only belatedly come his way, Henderson can at least rest easy in the knowledge that he has finally won over the doubters—not that he necessarily cared in the first place.
How long those doubters remain silent depends entirely on him, of course. The next time he looks anything less than unbeatable, you can be sure that the naysayers will be quick to pounce.