Benson Henderson is one of the nicest people in mixed martial arts, but he has failed to generate much interest from the casual fanbase of the UFC.
MMA fans, for the most part, do not openly embrace the theatrics of professional wrestling. They want MMA to be a sport and sport alone, but that is not realistic. It is also not truthful. These same fans, and you may be included in that group, eat it up every time Chael Sonnen or Josh Barnett cut a promo on the mic.
This is what Henderson needs to do, and he should go full heel in his attempt.
Nothing generates more interest than a heel in combat sports. Muhammad Ali was a heel. Mike Tyson was a heel. Tito Ortiz was a heel. And the list goes on and on. Heels generate interest because they are polarizing.
Many fans “get it.” They understand that the fighter is generating interest and saying things to be controversial. Others simply hate it; they want to see the fighter in question get beat up, so they tune in to each and every fight. Either way, it is a win for the athlete who is talking. They become a selling point.
Henderson has everything it takes to become a heel should he embrace the theatrics of the business. Is that something that interests him? I don't know, but it should, if he values making the most money he can in his limited time left in the sport.
How should he turn heel? He can take a page out of CM Punk's book. Use an admirable quality and count yourself as being better than everyone else.
CM Punk is straight-edge. He is alcohol free and drug free. That is nothing to look down upon, but in both the independent wrestling scene and under the bright lights of the WWE, he used this effectively to get under the skin of the audience.
CM Punk said that he was better than all of us because of his lifestyle. His air of superiority enraged fans.
Henderson is a straight-laced guy. He is a devout Christian. I believe that is what he should use. He may not like that or want to do it, but it would be an instant source of heat for the former lightweight champion.
Not because we are a group of soulless heathens, but because no one likes to have something shoved down their throat. It is not about religion at all, but it is about someone forcing personal choices onto us. That is what generates the negative reaction and subsequent heat.
Think about your average UFC fan. Or rather, think about the stereotype of an average UFC fan. A drunken, type-A male who wants violence. He is not there for the sport of it. He wants blood.
If Henderson took to the microphone and cut a promo on this stereotype of fan using a religious tone throughout, it would drive the fans across the world bananas. It would make Henderson a polarizing figure almost instantaneously. It would also make Henderson a lot more money.
Some may argue that using this tactic is cheap, and it exploits religion. Sure it does, but it also allows him to promote his faith to those who are actively listening should he articulate it well enough. That could be a selling point for Henderson to do that.
I am not promoting religious beliefs one way or the other—what I am saying is that there is a pro to the con of turning heel using a similar tactic that famous pro wrestlers have done for decades.
Henderson doesn't have to look far to see what works. CM Punk laid the blueprint out for him.
Combat sports have always been spectacle and sport mixed together. Henderson should embrace that and add more spectacle into it. He has been a bit too bland, and that has put him on the backburner. The casual fan has not been paying to watch him put his elite-level skills to use.
That's a shame, but it is something he can change by going heel.