Benson Henderson and the 5 Best Fighters Fans Love to Hate
Being one of the best mixed martial artists on the face of the planet probably gets you a ticket into the UFC.
Being one of the best mixed martial artists on the face of the planet doesn't make you an automatic qualifier as a fan favorite, though.
If Brock Lesnar and Tito Ortiz proved anything in their illustrious fighting careers, it was that no matter how dominant they could possibly be, they always managed to rub a good portion of the MMA community the wrong way. Lesnar was hated because of his confidence. Ortiz was hated for his refusal to face the best.
They were champions, and they were woefully disliked.
But if history tells us anything, even being respectful and willing to challenge the best available opponents still doesn't grant you access into fans' hearts.
Scroll on through the rest of the slideshow to see what top fighters fans love to hate. To limit the amount of fighters featured on the list, only those within the top five of their respective divisions will be considered.
Benson Henderson walked into the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 49 to secure his third title fight against lightweight titleholder Anthony Pettis. Pegged with another five-round fight, most of his detractors were all but prepared to watch the former champion inch his way into another close and controversial decision against an overmatched Rafael dos Anjos.
Luckily for all of Henderson's critics, dos Anjos had different plans.
With one solid left hook to the chin, dos Anjos became an instant fan favorite and relieved all of Henderson's critics of having to watch him from taking part in another five-rounder with title implications for quite some time.
Whether it's his knack for finding himself as the benefactor of overdrawn and controversial decisions or his religious demeanor that puts people off is for his critics to decide. Either way, Henderson still has some time to simultaneously put himself back in the title picture and in good graces with the MMA community: by finishing fights.
Johny Hendricks had every intention of walking away with Georges St-Pierre's title at UFC 167. He put the former champion through the toughest five-round fight of his fighting career.
When Bruce Buffer was tasked with announcing the scorecards, Hendricks looked like he'd just taken a brisk jog, while St-Pierre looked like he'd sprinted into a brick wall—repeatedly. Much to Hendricks' dismay, the controversial victory was awarded to the incumbent champion.
"I am the champion," he told reporters at the post-fight press conference. "I outjabbed him. I outstruck him. I outwrestled him. I did everything to win the fight. Except for those two judges that didn't give it to me."
But that's just it, he didn't do everything to win the fight because he didn't finish the fight.
"I really didn't hit him that hard," he later admitted. "The reason why, I wasn't really trying to knock him out. I knew it was going to be my first five-round fight so I was putting about 70 percent on him and it was enough."
Except, you know, it wasn't enough.
So, he "beat" the champ by doing "enough" with only 70 percent of his power, but he couldn't finish the fight or definitively convince the entire world he was deserving of the title. His ability to land his fists on opponents' chins should be plenty reason to make him a fan favorite. Opening his mouth and giving people insight on his contradictory beliefs makes him an easy target to hate.
This one's sort of puzzling but hard to ignore.
Lyoto Machida is easily one of the best fighters in the sport. He came onto the UFC scene in 2006, earning several unanimous decision victories before whispers of the Machida era came to fruition with knockout wins against Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans.
Then came Mauricio "Shogun" Rua as the first challenger to Machida's crown. Five rounds of action and Machida saw his hand raised. Too many people disagreed, and Dana White granted Shogun an immediate rematch. This time Shogun wouldn't let the judges intervene, knocking Machida out and showing everyone how to solve the unsolvable puzzle.
That must have been strike one.
Then came controversial decisions against Rampage Jackson, Dan Henderson and Phil Davis. He wasn't necessarily earning victories against popular opinion, but he was showing fans how to not get knocked out: by being the patient counter-striker and seemingly avoiding a fight.
He may have earned a few more fans since he departed from the light heavyweight division and became a force at middleweight, but his critics won't be too quick to forget how unelectrifying Machida can be.
Yeah, this one's pretty easy.
He cheated the sport back in 2006 when he fought against Dan Henderson in Pride. He served his suspension and fought his way back into the mainstream.
Seven years later, Belfort emerged a title contender in the UFC's middleweight division—this time by the aid of testosterone replacement therapy. His physique was better than ever, with veins surfacing out of places to question a 37-year-old fighter's natural abilities.
It's difficult to tell whether Belfort was abusing TRT when he defeated Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson with a kick to the head. He said he wasn't, but they didn't believe him. He did, however, test positive for elevated testosterone levels leading up to his title matchup with Chris Weidman in February.
His critics were finally relieved—the former cheater was caught red-handed again.
The problem? Belfort wasn't punished this time, but was rewarded with a chance at UFC gold.
There's no doubting Demetrious Johnson is one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world. He has above-average footwork, a solid understanding of how to change levels and enough speed to outstrike any opponent the UFC can offer.
He doesn't, however, have the ability to keep fans in their seats as he showcases his fighting assets.
And that's where the problem lies: he's the best fighter in the world at 125 pounds and has little trouble proving it. The next-best guy isn't even that close. But most would rather watch the best fighter in his division leave his opponents unconscious and discontent with unanimous decisions.
Johnson finds himself headlining what is arguably the UFC's best fight card of the year in September. It's a peculiar situation, though—after watching Conor McGregor, Donald Cerrone, Eddie Alvarez and Dominick Cruz do their thing inside of the Octagon, will they walk out on Johnson and his less-than-stellar main event?
He's the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet. He may get choosy at times with whom he'd rather share the Octagon with, but he seems unafraid of defending his title against anybody (remember, he's the pound-for-pound best).
He's a cerebral assassin inside of the cage and a chameleon outside of it—despite his absolute dominance, his ever-changing public persona leaves fans free to criticize one of the many Jon Jones' out there.
It's difficult to put a finger on when this all got started, but it's safe to say his actions upon defeating Lyoto Machida didn't help. After he let gravity take its toll on a standing-but-unconscious Machida, Greg Jackson asked his star pupil check on his defeated opponent to "get some fans."
Yeah, that didn't really help him "get some fans."
Fast-forward to present day, and Jones is receiving a lot of similar criticism for his actions toward Daniel Cormier. After his public brawl with Cormier created shockwaves in the world of sports, Jones and his opponent took part in a televised interview on ESPN. Jones' demeanor was calm and composed, but Cormier wasn't convinced fans were seeing the champion's true colors.
Lucky for Cormier, the camera's didn't stop recording after the interview was complete and fans were able to gain greater insight on what the challenger was referring to when he labeled Jones as a "fake."
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.
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