After five grueling rounds with lightweight contender Donald Cerrone, Ben "Smooth" Henderson walked away with both an interim WEC Lightweight Championship and the split decision nod.
Cerrone headed into that bout fresh off of a loss to Varner and was eager to get the champion back in the cage. Henderson, the 3-1 underdog, clearly had other plans.
Just three months removed from that fight of the year candidate bout, Henderson is ready to step back into the cage as he takes on Jamie Varner this Sunday at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif.
"I’m just excited to go fight. Let’s do it you know. I want another war. I want another five rounds hard. Bang them out, all out, knock down drag out war," Henderson said recently.
Varner became the WEC Lightweight Champion back in February of 2008 when he stopped Rob McCullough. His second defense of the title came just over a year ago against Cerrone. Varner left the cage as the champ but was a broken fighter. Hand injuries have kept the fighter sidelined since that bout.
The choice by the WEC to crown a champion in the mean time produces mixed feelings from Varner.
"You know it’s one thing like when Frank Mir when he got in his motorcycle accident and broke his leg you know he was out for like 2 years. And you know that was something outside the case. So I can understand you know the interim title," Varner said.
He would go on to add, "For me, I did all of my work. I mean I worked hard. I fought my butt off. And the fact that you know we were a couple of months short, realistically they could have made that the No. 1 contender fight and not had a belt, but you know what I think Ben deserves a belt. He deserves something for that fight."
Varner's misfortunes turned out to be a blessing for Hendserson.
Henderson went from relative obscurity to becoming one of the bright new faces of the WEC.
Even though he is now considered the organization's interim Champion, Henderson feels that there is only one title at stake in this fight.
"I just wanted to add real quickly, you know Jamie and I, we both know—I have an interim belt, but we both know, Jamie has the belt. He has it. I want to go get it. So you know like we both understand that. We both know like among ourselves we know what the real deal is."
Both fighters already have a sense of what the other will be bringing to the cage on Sunday night as they spent time working together when Varner prepared for his initial title defense against Marcus Hicks. Henderson remembers being gassed after going four rounds with the champ.
It was a moment that changed Henderson's outlook on his career.
"I remember that because I use that as a driving force as a factor like hey that’s what the champ does, he’s ready to go five rounds hard. And I barely lasted through four rounds and I was like oh man I’ve got a long ways to go," Henderson recalls.
Changes were made in the year and a half since that training camp, and he vows that a lack of energy won't be an issue this time around.
"The longer it goes, the harder it goes, the more if we can go 110 miles an hour, the entire 25 minutes I feel strong in that aspect. I feel like I would have a little bit of an advantage," he said.
His remarkable last fight against Cerrone should be evidence enough that he's broken through that four round barrier.
Cerrone mentioned in a conference call last month that, despite liking him outside the cage, he felt that Henderson lacked the necessary skills to come away with the win.
That could very well be the case. Henderson's wrestling skills should be able to hold up in his fight with Varner. It's his striking game that leaves something to be desired.
You can expect to see Henderson try to take this fight to the mat, and while he's there you can expect him to give it everything he has.
A year ago Ben Henderson might not have expected to be in this position.
But now that he is, don't expect the unlikely interim champ to take a step backwards.
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