Exclusive: Benson Henderson on Nate Diaz, UFC on Fox 5 & Fighting On the Same Card as BJ Penn
UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson has taken the UFC lightweight division by storm since the WEC merger at the end of 2010. He may have lost the WEC Lightweight Championship to Anthony Pettis in the final fight in the organizations history, but you can’t argue with who has been more successful in the two and half years since that fight took place.
A quiet man who lets his fighting do his talking, Henderson has improved with each and every fight. The UFC threw him right into the fire as he faced BJJ Blackbelt Mark Bocek at UFC 129. Henderson made quite a statement against the veteran and won by unanimous decision. From there he faced and defeated Jim Miller at UFC Live : Hardy vs. Lytle in August of 2011, ending the New Jersey native’s seven fight win streak.
Henderson would earn his crack at Frankie Edgar and the 155lb. Title by defeating Clay Guida at UFC on Fox 1 last November. He has subsequently defeated Edgar twice and will now face Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 5 in December in his second title defense. This match-up has fans everywhere salivating because these two men bring it each and every time out. Henderson expects nothing but the best Diaz and is excited about giving the fans exactly what they are looking for.
“The fight with Nate should be a great fight, he’s a great competitor,” Henderson told BJPenn.Com Radio. “He always brings it, he’s going to walk forward and I’m going to walk forward and we’ll see who is better. It’ll be nice to face someone who is not super elusive and hard to get a hold of. We’ll have some good exchanges, he’s definitely a fighters’ fighter. It’ll be a good scrap, I’m real excited for it. I’m not quite in training camp yet, my camps are a little shorter as I only run a five week training camp. When I’m not in training, I’m still in the gym three or four times a day.”
Diaz offers Henderson a stiff test no matter where the fight winds up. Much like his older brother Nick, the younger Diaz utilizes high volume punching, pushes a frenetic pace and has a solid submission game. In his last fight, Diaz became the first man to finish the always tough Jim Miller with a second round guillotine choke. That win is what earned him the shot against Henderson.
“I would say he’ll be the most dangerous fighter I’ve faced for sure,” Henderson admitted. “I’ve seen him at some jiu-jitsu tournaments in California and we also competed at The World Jiu-Jitsu tournament at the same time. He was one weight class above me, I competed at 167lbs. and he was in the 181lb. division. We were both brown belts back then and he’s a black belt now. I have to watch him on the ground, he’s very dangerous off of his back. His jiu-jitsu is very good, he’s also dangerous from top position as well. You could be winning every round and make one small mistake and he’ll capitalize on it.”
Before defeating Miller at UFC on Fox 2, Diaz ended Donald Cerrone’s six fight win streak at UFC 141 via unanimous decision. That was his second fight back at 155 after going 2-2 as a welterweight. Before the Cerrone fight the UFC paired him up with Takanori Gomi at UFC 135 and Diaz decimated the former Pride champion sending a message to all the UFC lightweights that he was back where he belonged. Diaz has not only displayed an improved skillset since his return to 155, he also shown an incredible amount of self-confidence and trust in his abilities.
“To be honest I think he’s gotten better everywhere, he’s really worked on his game,” offered the man they call Smooth. “He was competitive as a welterweight, but I think he knew he wasn’t going to make a title run in that division. He was able to use the time at 170 to work on his game and not worry about his place in the rankings. He was able to go out there, have some fun, try some new things and he has improved tremendously. He’s also grown mentally and matured as a MMA fighter.”
UFC on Fox 5 may be the most stacked card of the year. On top of the lightweight title bout the UFC has added three great fights to the main card including Alexander Gustafsson vs. Shogun Rua and Matt Brown vs. Mike Swick. The other match-up pitting BJ Penn against Rory MacDonald has Henderson very excited. He has been a fan of Penn’s for a long time and is psyched to be on the same card with the former two-division UFC champion. Henderson gave us a unique perspective on the fight as both a fan and a fighter.
“I am so excited to be fighting on the same card as BJ Penn,” said an excited Henderson. “That has been a dream of mine for quite some time. Here I am about to compete on the same night as him, it truly is an honor. This is such an awesome opportunity for me. Rory has a longer reach, but I think BJ will do better when they are standing up. I think Rory will use the blueprint set by GSP and that will be to try and keep BJ up against the cage, hold him and wear him down. I see BJ moving and using angles and not allowing Rory to pin him up against the cage. It all comes down to who can implement their game plan. BJ is a legend, he’s great and me personally I would never bet against him.”
Gustafsson has been anointed by many as the fighter who has the best opportunity to beat current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. Rua will be by far his toughest opponent and Dana White has said the winner of this fight could face the winner of the Jones-Chael Sonnen bout scheduled for April. This is going to be a fight that the fans and other fighters will be able to enjoy.
“Shogun is a warrior, he’s proven it time and time again, there’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” Henderson said. “There’s no questioning his heart, he’ll always be there, he’ll always be ready to go. Gustafsson is tough and he’s up and coming, This will be his toughest fight yet and a lot of times nerves can get in the way, we’ll see how he handles it. I give it to Shogun, he’s got a lot of experience having been in a ton of big fights. This isn’t Shogun’s biggest fight, will Alexander be able to handle the added exposure and all of the media attention that comes along with it.”