The last Q&A I wrote in my Talking Shop series was back in November, which should tell you how rarely I do this, but every now and then I am presented with the chance to ask a few questions of individuals whom I really admire.
This week I was able to ask some questions of the current UFC Lightweight champion, Benson Henderson, and he was kind enough to offer some replies and insight into his training and mindset.
Jack Slack: When did you decide that you could make a full time career of fighting?
Benson Henderson: I first decided that I could make a career of MMA after I decided to take it seriously and not act like a teenager in some band, but fully commit myself like a professional. Roughly, when I decided to up and move in the middle of the night from Omaha, Neb. to Denver, Colo. for proper training.
JS: Which was your toughest fight? Who was your toughest opponent and have you ever made the mistake of underestimating an opponent?
BH: My toughest opponent, for sure was Donald Cerrone in our first dance. I like to think that I'm a pretty intelligent fighter and haven't underestimated any of my opponents.
JS: You began training wrestling and Taekwondo when you were quite young—do you feel that you benefited from practicing distinct disciplines before training for MMA competition?
BH: I did start my training in Taekwondo pretty early on and then started wrestling my freshman year in high school. I do think that with my background it has allowed me to keep an open mind to other kinds of training and the variety of disciplines out there.
JS: Your kicking game is obviously very important to your overall performance in the Octagon, yet, at the same time, it is somewhat a-typical in MMA. For instance, you often kick straight out of your stance, or throw several high kicks to set up a low kick (rather than vice versa) and of course the jumping kick off of one leg against Frankie Edgar was like something out of Bloodsport. How much of this is a holdover from your Taekwondo and how much is just personal preference or creativity?
BH: A lot of my kicks are unique to MMA and the fight game in general. I wouldn't say that it's on purpose, but more because I've had success doing them and using them. I just use them more often. People a lot of times have expectations for combinations, if you can throw something that they don't expect or throw something in a way that they don't expect it, it can be pretty successful. I definitely try to blend the traditional with the off-the-wall, though. If your fundamentals are so bad your opponent doesn't respect you, you won't have the timing/space to throw your more unique techniques.
JS: We know that you have spent a good deal of time working on your jiu jitsu game. Obviously you competed very successfully in the Arizona State Championship in the GI and news has just recently come out that you intend to enter ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) this year. Are these simply an aside to keep you sharp or do you hope to pursue competitive grappling more seriously in tandem with your MMA career?
BH: I do enjoy competing in BJJ (Brazilian Jui Jitsu), submission grappling and wrestling tournaments. But it's more just for the love of the game. I love to compete. I love wrestling. Putting them together makes sense. I feel it definitely helps my MMA game as well.
JS: Your next opponent, Anthony Pettis has to be an exciting match for you as he is the only man to defeat you since way back before you began in the WEC. How does the previous bout affect your motivation and preparation for this bout?
BH: My next opponent being Anthony Pettis and the only man to beat me in the past seven years is motivating. Just not in the way and as much as the media is playing it up to be. I can't wait to get my hands on him, but I don't need to because I have the UFC belt around my waist. I was able to man up and move on from the past and that loss, which is the only way I was able to rise to the level that I'm at now.
JS: While the first fight with Pettis took place in a 25ft diameter cage, this one will be taking place in the much larger 30ft diameter Octagon. Do you feel the larger cage favours you or Pettis?
BH: I'm not sure who a larger cage favors more. The WEC cage was smaller and the UFC is quite a bit larger, but ultimately I don't think either one of us is thinking that the deciding factor in this fight will be the size of the Octagon.
JS: Given that your last three bouts have been title fights, how much opponent specific preparation do you undertake nowadays? How much tape do you and your coaches watch on opponents?
BH: We do a lot of specific preparation while training. Because I'm in the gym year-round training two to three times a day, my training camps are shorter, only five weeks. During the entire five weeks we specifically get ready for one opponent. During the rest of the year is when I just concentrate on myself and improving overall.
I would like to thank Mr. Henderson for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope that my readers found his answers as interesting as I did.
Don't forget to check out my latest article on the Pettis - Henderson rematch and the techniques and strategies on display in the first. Benson Henderson defends his lightweight title against Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 on Saturday night.