Benson Henderson may be the most underappreciated champion in the UFC.
Perhaps it's because MMA fans aren't quite ready to embrace change, or it could all hinge on Henderson's inability to connect with an audience.
The latter seems like the more far-fetched reason, considering Henderson boasts so many admirable qualities as a champion. He is well-spoken, a great performer and one of the best role models in all of MMA.
The disconnect with fans appears to be fueled by a combination of not winning decisively and being the new kid on the block.
Henderson knows he isn't a flashy fighter. It has never been about delivering amazing highlight-reel finishes.
In a heartfelt Facebook post, Henderson defines a fighter as someone who never gives up and is always willing to swim that extra mile in hopes of achieving the impossible:
I was never the fastest, or strongest, or most athletic, or most technical or anything like that. Go ahead and ask any of my high school or college wrestling coaches. I was never picked 1st in dodgeball or basketball or soccer or football games growing up but one thing I always had was the will power and determination to NEVER give up, to not be afraid to open up my heart and give all of myself, to not hold anything back for the swim back to shore.
Henderson achieved what many thought was impossible back in February 2012 when he defeated Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title.
Since winning the title, he has successfully defended it three times, which puts him only one defense away from breaking the lightweight record. After only a year as champion, Henderson is a win away from being considered the greatest lightweight in UFC history.
MMA fans are prideful when it comes to former champions and some of the sport's all-time greats. Who wants to say Henderson is a better lightweight than BJ Penn?
For fans, the mere idea of anyone being better than Penn at 155 pounds is blasphemy.
To top it all off, every one of Henderson's defenses could've easily gone the other way. He is barely scraping by as a world champion, and it looks like everything will come crumbling down at any second.
Regardless, Henderson constantly finds a way to win, which is a common quality in all great champions. He isn't trying to be the next BJ Penn. When it's all said and done, his only hope is to be the best Benson Henderson:
I guess I'm supposed to apologize that I'm no AndersonSilva or BJPenn, who is? I'm just that kid who would never stop, the kid whose older brother friends used to beat in 10 games of basketball (in a row) but would be pushing for the 11th game, yeah that's me. And just like back then I'm not going ANYWHERE, you want my belt, you're gonna have to pry it from my cold fingers.
No, I'm not the best but guess what, I've got the UFC: Ultimate Fighting Championship LW belt and I'm just getting started, I'm getting better every single day...think about that, let that sink in.
What's wrong with yearning to achieve greatness or bettering oneself?
If every fighter were held to Silva and Penn's standards, there wouldn't be any success stories in MMA. Ultimately, this sport is about winning, and Henderson has managed to do so consistently at the highest level.
He is creating his own legacy as a future all-time great. Years from now, people aren't going to care about the narrow decision wins. They'll look back on his championship reign, and everything will be black and white, wins and losses.
Off the top of your head, how many bouts went to a decision during Tito Ortiz's five-fight stint as UFC champion?
Most probably don't even remember the opponents Ortiz faced, but everyone knows he holds the record for most successful UFC light heavyweight title defenses. Winning is the ultimate remedy for any skeptic.
For those waiting for Henderson to finally slip up and fall off the mountain, you may want to grab a seat and get comfortable. It could be a long wait.