Fight Night 42: The Next Step the Only One That Matters to Benson Henderson

Duane FinleyContributor IJune 2, 2014

USA Today

The process of progress is one Benson Henderson has dedicated himself to.

While the MMA Lab-trained fighter is as goal-driven as they come in mixed martial arts, the larger aspects of his ambition have become the backdrop as the immediate steps in his progression are consistently locked in his sights. The former lightweight champion and current contender's "One percent better" credo is a reflection of the mindset he carries into all things, and his blue-collar work ethic is the fire that has molded one of the best 155-pound fighters on the planet.

Where his ultimate goal is to reclaim the position he once held atop the competitive lightweight mountain, Henderson has no issue battling his way through the challenges it will take to traverse such a landscape. 

Apr 20, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Benson Henderson (left) fights Gilbert Melendez (right) during the lightweight championship bout of the UFC on Fuel TV at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout his time competing inside the Octagon, Henderson has consistently operated with an "open to all comers" mentality, as he's squared off with the best the division has to offer time and time again. In most cases, those matchups have come with a traceable trajectory in tow, with victory moving him notably closer to his long-term goals.

Yet, the current state of the lightweight division is a realm where nothing is promised, and in that regard, Henderson is operating as a lone wolf willing to fight until the opportunity he seeks presents itself. He will take everything as it comes, and all the hard work and sacrifice he invests in the journey will make sure he's ready for the challenges that arise on his journey.

"Focusing on what is right in front of me is all I ever do," Henderson told Bleacher Report. "Of course you have your long-term goals. I'm all about setting goals and going after them with everything...all your heart and soul. You have to goals in life—not just in MMA—but in life. You have to have goals, and I have them, but it is one fight at a time. You have to go out there and get your hand raised before you can worry about anything else. Why worry about the NBA playoffs before you have even finished up the season? It's one game at a time and the same thing applies to what I'm doing."

And his next fight against Rustam Khabilov at Fight Night 42 is a prime example.

Jan 25, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Benson Henderson (red gloves) reacts after defeating Josh Thomson (blue gloves) during UFC on FOX 10 at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With the lightweight strap locked up until Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez handle their business at the end of the year, there is plenty of room for frustration to set in on those fighters with title ambitions. That said, Henderson's determination and pursuit of greatness provide him the ability to stay focused on the grind and not be affected by outside distractions.

While he doesn't agree with defending a title one time in a calendar year, those things—at least for the time being—are beyond his control, and not something he can justify the time it takes to concern himself with.

He's coming off a big win over Josh Thomson at his last outing at UFC on Fox 10 back in January, and he will be looking to keep his personal progress rolling when he steps in against the Dagestan-born fighter this Saturday in the main event of the UFC's debut in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That is the fight that matters, and everything else is just that...everything else at this point.

While his next bout is slated to go down against the Jackson/Winkeljohn product this weekend, finding someone to face the former WEC lightweight titleholder wasn't the easiest task to accomplish. Throughout his time competing on the sport's biggest stage, Henderson has proven to be a difficult stylistic puzzle to solve, and finding takers to stand across from him inside the Octagon has become a battle in itself.

Khabilov expedited that process by using social media to express interest in fighting Henderson, and it was one the Glendale resident happily accepted.

Jan 25, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Benson Henderson (red gloves) before his fight with Josh Thomson (not pictured) during UFC on FOX 10 at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

"Rustam Khabilov is a tough kid and a tough fighter," Henderson said. "It's been a long time since someone who has wanted to fight for the belt has been wiling to fight me. I was talking to some of the UFC brass, a few of the higher ups, and there are plenty of guys who want to fight for the belt; they just don't exactly want to fight me. They wanted to wait until I lost before they wanted a chance to fight for the belt. After I lost, they put my name out there and no one wanted to fight me.

"I had the fight with Josh Thomson, but after that, no one wanted to fight me because I'm a difficult stylistic matchup. Guys who are trying to get to the title didn't want to fight the number one guy in the division because why take that risk of fighting the number one guy who is a pretty tough fight and then fight for the belt? It was super-hard for me to find fights because the UFC kept trying to match me up and everyone kept turning it down. 

"Rustam actually said on Twitter that he wanted to fight me," he added. "I thought that was cool and interesting. No one had actually wanted to fight me for a long time so I said cool...let's do it. Sign me up. I want to be the best fighter on the planet. I want to be the best at 155 and to do that you have to back it up. You have to fight everybody and beat everyone. You can't just have the belt and say you are going to wait so long and basically only defend it once in a year. You have to fight everybody and you have to beat them to defend that. So that's what I want to do. I just want to keep fighting and beating everybody up."


Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.