UFC lightweight Benson Henderson is a man of perspective, so when a fan recently offered him a different one, the soft-spoken fighter dubbed “Smooth” listened.
The fan reminded Henderson that he’s been fighting for four years just like UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, pointing out Henderson’s had two Fight of the Year candidates in that time.
The perspective is key as the former WEC Lightweight Champion Henderson arrives in the Octagon for the first time against Mark Bocek at UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada this Saturday night.
He attempts to rebound from just the second loss of his 14-fight career—a five-round decision defeat to Anthony Pettis for the belt at WEC 53 last December—and begin his road back to holding gold again.
"My fight against [Donald] 'Cowboy' Cerrone, 2009 Fight of the Year. My fight against Anthony Pettis 2010, Fight of the Year. For four years, two years I had Fight of the Year. I want to continue that streak. I want another Fight of the Year for 2011,” said Henderson.
“I want another Fight of the Year for 2012. I want another Fight of the Year for 2013. I want to continue that going, see if I can get three Fight of the Year in a row. I want to continue those performances."
Pushing past the wrong end of the “Showtime” cage kick highlight that floored Henderson and lost him the WEC belt to Pettis is paramount for The Lab representative. The last time “Smooth” was defeated, he strung together 10 consecutive victories, including six in the WEC that elevated him into top-10 rankings.
To ensure his perspective would be right for his return, the former Dana College wrestler cleared his head before setting his goal of collecting a trifecta of Fight of the Year honors.
"Since I started fighting, I have not had a vacation. For four years, I didn't take a vacation. I trained everyday. Maybe 2-3 days at most [of] not training for four years straight,” he said.
“After the Pettis fight, especially after the loss and what not, I listened to my coaching staff. ‘Yeah, good idea, I'll take a break physically and mentally.’ I just didn't do anything. I took some time off, relaxed, didn't train and go into the gym."
Transitioning from the top of the WEC lightweight division into the UFC’s 155-pound class, Henderson hopes hard time in the gym makes up the small discrepancy that cost him the deciding round of a decision versus Pettis.
“Whether I get my hand raised in Fight of the Year against [Donald] 'Cowboy' Cerrone or whether don't get my hand raised in a Fight of the Year against Anthony Pettis, I hate decisions,” said the 27-year-old.
“So I want to continue ending people and I want to continue getting my hand raised, whether its UFC or ABC or XYZ, whatever it is, I want to get my hand raised, period."
The work ethic to pick up again and persevere through tough spots is in Henderson’s DNA. He credits his mother for coming to this country with limited English skills, punching the clock for 16-17 hour days (which she still does) en route to being a successful small business owner of 2-3 different ventures.
"I always remember the movie, A Bronx Tale, with Robert DeNiro. The working man is a sucker and no one ever gives the average Joe…as much credit as he's due. It's a hard job. I don't know if I can do it,” he said.
“When I graduated college, I was gonna work as a police officer because I'd have to do something different."
Fighting may be the roughest of professions, but it’s still a blessing to “Smooth.” Henderson was working 40-45 hour weeks in construction while pursuing fighting in Colorado. Relocating to The Lab in Arizona helped him transition from part-time to full-time fighter, leaving behind labor outside of the gym.
“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” DeNiro says in Bronx Tale—something Henderson understood when he made the leap from collegiate wrestler to mixed martial artist and the reason he’ll be able to perform after the first notable hiccup of his career.
“Fighting is a game of inches and I was two centimeters short of that inch and I ended up losing. It was a shame. I hate it. But it wasn't the biggest loss,” he said.
“I understand as the media and fans, they're more focused on the winner [and] Jim Miller and Mark Bocek and other guys that are making their names in the UFC. For my next fight, I want to make up those two centimeters."
For a former champion, those inches are everything. Especially for a fighter like Henderson that speaks softly and carries a big measuring stick for opposition like Bocek and the rest of the UFC lightweight division.
"If they want to bring my name up as one of the best guys at 155, then by all means, but I'm not gonna say, 'Hey, what about me? You forgot about me.' I don't wanna talk about it. The only time you're gonna see me do anything is inside the cage,” concluded Henderson.
“After I beat up Mark Bocek, after I beat up the next guy, after I beat up the next guy, that's me making a statement inside the cage. I will never be a talker."
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend