Ben Henderson's Greatness Lies In His Humility
At the start of 2009, Ben Henderson was a young up and comer who hoped to make his way in a growing lightweight division in the WEC. By the end of the year, he was holding an interim title belt and being mentioned as a candidate for "Fighter of the Year."
On paper it may seem that 2009 will be hard to top, but Henderson is determined to do just that. It starts with his title unification bout with WEC champion Jamie Varner on Jan. 10.
Coming off of a five-round war with Donald Cerrone in October, Henderson took a little time off to let an eye injury heal, but then he got a couple unexpected calls that took him by surprise and definitely motivated him to train. Besides the January scheduling for his own fight, arguably the two top lightweights in the world, B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian, both called on Henderson to help them in camp for their respective fights in December.
"It was (Kenny's) brother Keith Florian who actually hit me up first and he was like do you want to come work out with us and help us get ready? I was like, ‘are you serious? Is that a serious question? Of course I would!’" Henderson recalled with enthusiasm.
"Then B.J. the same thing. We saw him in Vegas at the UFC fighter summit and he came up and asked me if I wanted to come up and help him get ready, and I was like 'what? I will stay there as long as you want; until you kick me out!’ It is a complete blessing. (I'm) extremely honored to have those two guys want to beat me up and stuff."
Taking all the training he can, Henderson is quick to point out that he's still young in the game, but believes that the WEC, his management, and trainers have all taken the right approach to get him to this point.
"I think my career has taken all the appropriate steps," Henderson commented. "My first fight in the WEC wasn't for a title. It wasn't on the main card. Everything was baby steps."
One of those "baby steps" was his showdown against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone that earned him the interim title he'll wear to the cage on Jan. 10. The fight was nominated and won "Fight of the Year" by several media outlets. The Arizona based fighter admits it helped him reach the next level.
"It did help me out a little bit mentally. I'm a very confident fighter; every fighter should be highly confident. I have full faith in my abilities and my skills. I know I can go five rounds. I know I can go six, seven rounds," said Henderson. "If they change title fights to seven-round fights, let's do it. I'll do seven rounds.
"Going out there and showing it, and proving to the fans and myself and actually doing it, I mean I have faith in myself, but then doing it is a whole other thing."
Facing Varner, Henderson is set to square off against another top-notch competitor. A strong boxer and wrestler, Varner possesses a dangerous cocktail of weapons that can challenge any top 155-pound fighter.
Coming into the title fight, Henderson is also getting Varner coming off of a yearlong layoff. Following his win over Cerrone in January 2009, Varner was forced onto the shelf with a broken foot, broken hand, and a career threatening eye injury. In the end, the champion made a full recovery, but not before missing 12 months of his career.
The current interim lightweight champion is no fool. He knows that the time off could be a factor in the fight, but he's definitely not counting on it.
"Ring rust is a real thing. It's definitely a factor into everybody's fight," he commented. "I think he'll be fine. He's a good champion. He's a good competitor. He's a good fighter. I think his coaching staff, his whole team is smart enough to deal with it and not allow that to be as big a factor as it could be."
As the match-up draws near, as usual, Henderson has avoided saying anything bad about his opponent. Respectful as any fighter in the game, he compliments Varner and understands that the fight will be a tough one to come out on top of.
Still, as a fan of MMA, Henderson commented before his fight with Cerrone that he hoped to see "Cowboy" and Varner in a rematch of their title fight in 2009, but said that he was sad it would only be a three-round war, indicating that he would have defeated them both.
One piece of that puzzle, a win over Cerrone, is now in place. Henderson is ready to put the rest of the puzzle together on Jan. 10 at WEC 46.
"Pretty soon they'll start calling me Nostradamus," Henderson said with a laugh about his prognostication.
This was a fairly good read and I'm sure some of you will enjoy it.
1. BJ "The Prodigy" Penn
2. Dan "Hollywood" Henderson
3. George "Rush" St Pierre