As a competitor, Benson Henderson has never shied away from setting his personal levels of expectation at the highest tier. The MMA Lab-trained fighter has continuously demanded the most out of himself, and this unique sense of drive and determination has fueled his run to become the top 155-pound fighter in the sport.
For some fighters, claiming the ever-elusive title of UFC champion would be enough to satisfy the fires of ambition. But Henderson is a different breed of competitor, and after defeating Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 last year in Japan, the new lightweight champion marked the next chapter of his career by unleashing a new set of goals to be pursued.
Staying true to form, the 29-year-old set his sights on eclipsing one of the most impressive records in the UFC history books. Middleweight king Anderson Silva has amassed a legacy as the greatest mixed martial artist to ever enter the Octagon, and one of his greatest accomplishments along this journey has been setting the record for title defenses.
"The Spider" has successfully defended the 185-pound strap on 10 consecutive occasions, an accomplishment that becomes all the more remarkable when considering the highly competitive landscape in the current realm of mixed martial arts.
While Henderson may only be slightly north of a year into his reign as UFC champion, his push for greatness remains strong. The UFC lightweight division is by all means a shark tank where the talent is deep and suitable contenders are lined up at the ready to compete for Henderson's position atop the divisional mountain. These circumstances only serve to provide further motivation for Henderson as he is prepared to handle all comers who oppose his lightweight title.
Chasing Silva's record may be a mountain of a task, but Henderson is willing to give all he has to accomplish his goal of becoming the most dominant champion in UFC history.
"I'm going to continue to work hard to reach my goals," Henderson told Bleacher Report. "Anderson is now at 10 title defenses so my goal is to get 11. If he gets another title defense then I'll have to set my goal even higher. Those are the goals I set and reaching that goal is not just about setting the record. Reaching that goal is about confirming I am the best fighter on the planet. I just want to be the best fighter on the planet. There have been plenty of fighters—who at the time were known as the best fighter on the planet—but they didn't have a 10-title defense streak and didn't have all the records.
"I feel at one time BJ Penn was definitely the best fighter on the planet. Did he have a 10-fight win streak? No he didn't. Did he have an undefeated streak where he won 16 fights in a row? No he didn't. But at the same time, everyone knew and understood he was the best fighter in the world.
"I feel having that streak is my way of cementing the fact I am the best fighter on the planet. That is ultimately my goal. If it comes by winning a bunch of fights in a row and having an amazing win streak, then cool. I'll take it. I guess I don't really have to have that, but it is my ultimate goal. I want to be the best fighter I can be and be the best fighter on the planet."
With two successful title defenses under his belt, the next challenge on Henderson's path will come next month when he squares off with the last man to hold the Strikeforce lightweight championship—Gilbert Melendez.
The "clash of champions" will mark Melendez's long-awaited Octagon debut, and Henderson is looking forward to mixing it up with the Skrap Pack leader in San Jose.
"I think it's a really good matchup stylistically," Henderson said. "The more and more I watch film on Gilbert, he does a great job of sticking to his game plan. From what I've seen his coaches come up with a great game plan and he does a wonderful job of sticking to that game plan as the fight goes on. That is probably one of the best things he does. His coaches come up with a good game plan and he stick to it throughout the entire fight.
"But stylistically I think it is a great matchup. We think he's more than likely going to walk forward as he's done in a lot of his past fights. There have been some fights where he hasn't done that as much because the game plan was to be a little more elusive. But most of his fights he is pretty aggressive and he walks forward. We think he is going to come forward against us. I'm also going to walk forward and we are going to see who is better that night. I think it's going to be a great fight for the fans to watch."
The championship tilt with Melendez will come as the headlining bout at UFC on Fox 7 on April 20 in San Jose. The bout will mark the second consecutive time "Smooth" has been featured in the main event of a Fox card, with his most recent showing coming in a dominant victory over Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 5 last December in Seattle.
It is an interesting turn of events for the top lightweight fighter in the world where the UFC on Fox cards are concerned.
His first showing at a UFC on Fox event, came in an untelevised scrap against former contender Clay Guida. Henderson and "The Carpenter" put on what many heralded as the night's best fight, but because the the UFC's debut on the Fox network was structured to only feature the heavyweight title bout between champion Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, Henderson's fight was push to the Facebook portion of the card.
Now as Henderson prepares to headline another UFC on Fox event, he can't help but feel a sense of validation for the work he has put in to reach premier showcase status.
"It's a really good feeling," Henderson said. "Fox is the biggest platform with the most viewers for the UFC. Five-and-a-half million people tuned in to the last Fox card and it's cool knowing there are going to be that many people watching and knowing that the UFC and Fox picked Gilbert and I to the be the representatives of their brand. It's nice to know that. It's great to have that feeling.
"I love being on free TV. I love being on a platform where it's not the core demographic of fans who are tuning in to watch the fights. It's not just the 400,000 or 600,000 people who tune in to watch the UFC and are males in the 18-34 demographic. It's not 500,000 people but 5.5 million who tuned in to watch. That's awesome. Those are people who aren't in the usual demographic and that is broadening the range of viewership. I like being able to fight on a bigger stage and a bigger platform and I think that's awesome.
"The geek in me and the kid inside of me is stoked because the first UFC on Fox card was a big huge deal, with a ton of press and media, just a completely different thing and another animal unto itself," Henderson added. "It was the UFC on Fox but Clay Guida and I were not on Fox. It was two heavyweights. Then my last fight headlined a Fox card which was awesome, and now for this card, Gil and I are the main event and there are two heavyweights as the co-main event below us.
"The kid in me gets a little geeky about that. I was with Frank Mir a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco and I was giving him all kinds of grief about how heavyweights always get the most love. They are always paid the most money and everybody's always talking about them because they are big, huge guys who go after it. And I understand that but it's cool to see us little guys, the little 155-pounders, getting to headline above the heavyweights. I like that."
As Henderson's title run continues, his visibility in the sport has increased leaps and bounds. Where he was once a hungry young fighter determined to climb the ladder, he is now in a place where his views and thoughts are rapidly shared throughout the MMA community.
A recent example came during his appearance at a Q & A session for UFC Fight Club members, where the champion was asked to share his personal thoughts on fighters who use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). While Henderson spoke his mind on the matter, the quote he provided quickly hit headlines across the MMA media landscape, making it seem as if the Arizona-based fighter was leading a crusade across the sport.
Henderson feels the articles which followed were misinformed, and he wanted to set the record straight on the matter.
"No, not at all," Henderson answered when asked if he felt his status as a UFC champion was an important platform to speak out on the issue of PEDs and TRT. "Actually, to be honest, I feel that report was taken a little bit out of context. That question was brought to me on how I feel about the matter. If you want to take PEDs or TRT then by all means go ahead. I personally don't even care. It's fine and I'm not really against PEDs.
"That is the way it was worded incorrectly. I'm not against PEDs. I'm not against TRT. If you want to do that and if you choose to do that—by all means go ahead. I'm still going to beat you though. Whether you are on PEDs or TRT, I'm a pretty confident fighter, a confident person and I feel I'm pretty skilled. I'm in my prime and I feel I can beat anybody. If you are on PEDs or not on PEDs; I feel I can beat you. If you are on TRT or not on TRT; I feel I can beat you. It doesn't really matter.
"I'm not really against PEDs so to speak. I think the way some people took it is that I'm out there preaching against PEDs and TRT. I don't really care to be honest. It's whatever. If you want to use those things then go ahead. If not then that is whatever too."
While other things outside the cage will come and go from the forefront, the fact remains that Henderson's attempt for greatness inside the Octagon will continue. The champion knows he has a formidable opponent in Melendez waiting for him in San Jose, and he will do everything in his power to make sure the performance he puts on at UFC on Fox 7 shows gained improvements from the last time he stepped into the cage.
At the end of the day, the process of progress is what matters most to Henderson. Despite having the championship belt in his possession, the former WEC-turned-UFC-lightweight titleholder is focused on making sure his skills continue to improve each and every time he steps into action.
For all the talent and confidence he exudes, it is the belief that hard work will make even the loftiest goals achievable. This is perhaps what sets Henderson apart from the rest of the pack. And as he often shares with his fans on Twitter, getting one percent better in the gym every day makes producing amazing results possible.
"By now I know my fans understand and realize I'm not one of those guys who needs extra motivation," Henderson said. "I don't need to say, 'Oh this guy is talking crap about me and he thinks my teeth are jacked up. He doesn't like my hair. He thinks I'm a paper champion and doesn't think I really have the belt. Or this guy talked crap about my momma. Or this guy doesn't like my toe nails.' I don't need that extra motivation.
"Every time I step into that Octagon I'm going to give 100 percent and put on a show. That's just who I am and what I'm going to do. I'm always going to be fully prepared. I'm always going to be 100 percent physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared as I can be. I will step into that Octagon and give 100 percent and all of my heart. I will give it all out there and not hold anything back. All my fans who know that, much love and appreciation goes out to them. Hopefully for the next Fox card, and the seven million people who tune in will see that and recognize that as well."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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