EXCLUSIVE | Benson Henderson still open to welterweight fights, but has eye on Bellator lightweight title

When it comes to the discussion of who is the greatest lightweight fighter of all time, debates can’t be had without the mention of the former WEC and UFC king, ‘Smooth’ Benson Henderson.

Continuously underappreciated throughout his reigns as champion, Henderson was as active of a champion as any and constantly looking for a fight. Although no longer the champion, that attitude remains the same with a similar goal in mind.

Having already had two title shots in Bellator, one at welterweight with the other at his usual home of lightweight, The MMA Lab staple still continues to learn a lot despite his great amount of experience that he’s utilizing on his road back to the gold.

“The biggest takeaway from [the Michael] Chandler [title fight] was him wanting to wrestle and grapple,” Henderson told BJPenn.com. “He actually won the wrestling-grappling exchanges in the fifth round. That’s what won him the fight. I was not in the mindset… I didn’t think he wanted to wrestle, I didn’t think he wanted to grapple but you look at some of his past fights, he starts losing the stand-up battle, that’s what he goes to. We’re like, ‘Oh yeah, duh. Of course. He’s a college wrestler, yadda yadda,’ Start beating him up a little bit, he’s going to try to take me down.

“I need to do a better job of being prepared for that. Wanna put on a singlet and go have a wrestling match? No problem, no problem. We can do that if that’s what you want to do. I will win, I will do that. But I was still in the mindset of the more striking, throwdown and getting dirty and that sort of stuff. And he turned it into more of a grappling match, wrestling match. Next time we face each other, I’ll be ready for that. Want a wrestling match, no problem. Keep it a kickboxing stand up fight, no problem. Wanna turn it to a Jiu-Jitsu, ground game fight, no problem. I’ll be ready for either and all facets of the fight.”

Next for Henderson will be the rising contender, Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 220 this Saturday night. ‘The Bomb’ will look to make a name off of the MMA legend to cement his place as the rightful next contender at 155-pounds. But so will Henderson, as a win for both fighters would extend their current streaks to three straight.

Even with that in mind, the Colorado Springs native isn’t totally sure where a win would put him in the division.

“I don’t really know to be honest, man, guys… People are tending to think about and obsess about where it puts me and if I beat this guy and I do this, then this guy loses, yadda yadda yadda… Just go win your next fight,” Henderson told BJPenn.com. “Let the matchmakers do their job. What is the military favorite thing to say? Over my paygrade, over my paygrade. My job is to go in there and go win, get my hand raised. I’ll let Rich Chou, Mike Kogan do their jobs. They’re great at it so they’ll have it all taken care of.”

For the Smooth one, he entered Bellator in the midst of his welterweight run and despite now being back at his original home of 155-pounds, he’s still open to life at 170-pounds. He just realizes that he needs better performances by coming in at the top of his abilities. He even admits that he knows that some guys will need to have “off nights” when they meet.

With the several recent cases of success for fighters that have gone up in weight as well as the never-ending battle with father time, Henderson has noticed the differences as his career has progressed.

“I think for sure… Actually, it’s definitely harder the older you get. You just gain size, it’s just how the human body works. But on top of that, I can fully admit, my willpower on food has definitely gone down. My willpower for training hard has actually gone up. I can train harder, train smarter. You’re more aware the older, how you train, that sort of stuff, you know? My willpower on eating, like snacking… I literally had a whole bag of chocolate Oreo’s like two weeks ago.

“I can definitely train harder, train smarter, but same time, my willpower for food… Gone, gone. Training hard, I have that no problem. The balance of actually dieting, being smart and [watching] what you eat, that’s definitely gone downhill a lot.”

Assuming Henderson gets the win on Saturday night accompanied by his third crack at a Bellator title, he’ll be facing one of two former opponents in current champion, Michael Chandler or who would then be the featherweight and lightweight champion, Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire.

Either or, Henderson has no prediction for that fight or preference as to who he’d rather rematch. He just wants the winner. But first thing’s first… And that’s the San Jose favorite in Piccolotti.

“[Piccolotti is a] young, hungry guy, he’s a pretty big name coming out of AKA (American Kickboxing Academy), up and coming rising star, 9-0, really good Jiu-Jitsu, great striking, this and that,” Henderson said. “They have a ton of great lightweights over there at AKA. He’ll be the next in line.

“He took a couple hard losses in a row, but he did what you need to do as an up and comer or a wannabe champion, he got better from those losses, and in those next two fights he was able to get his hand raised. And in those two fights, he looked better than he ever has before. So I expect him to be the best version of himself. Keep the pace active, stay after it and try to come get me.”

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 4/26/2019