Former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson knows a thing or two about winning championship gold, and he’s looking to add the Bellator strap to his collection when he faces Usman Nurmagomedov in the first round of the Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix.
Henderson faces Nurmagomedov in the main event of Bellator 292 on Friday, March 10 as he looks to round off his career on a high and, speaking to the media ahead of fight night in San Jose, “Smooth” said he’s ready to finish his contract with the promotion, then pass the torch to his wife Maria, who is ready to embark on a Bellator career of her own.
“For me, my end days are these last three fights, then I’m done,” he said
“I signed a four-fight deal, then I’m done. It’s my wife’s turn. My wife put off her career, like a lot of wives do — happy International Women’s Day, by the way! She had the four babies, now it’s my turn to take care of them now that she’s off at the gym training… at the end of these fights, I’m done.
“I think everyone at retirement age — look at Tom Brady — thinks they can play one more, but for me, it’s more about my wife getting her turn. She needs to be able to concentrate on training and the amount of work it takes to be good at MMA. When you’re the primary provider for the kids, it’s kind of hard to have that time.”
But before Henderson hangs up the gloves, he plans on going out in style, starting by dethroning newly-crowned lightweight champ Nurmagomedov.
“I think Usman is a good champ. He’s a great striker. In his last fight, he showed that he has the skillset to wrestle; he was like, ‘You guys forget where I come from!’” he said.
“I think the biggest takeaway from that, since he’s relatively young in the sport, is the skillset he has that he wasn’t able to showcase yet. It’s more about what else he brings to the table that he hasn’t shown yet; I’m paying a lot of attention to that, of course.”
With Henderson in the veteran stage of his career and Nurmagomedov a champion with an undefeated record, the oddsmakers have installed Henderson as a sizable underdog for the matchup. But, in typical Henderson fashion, he just batted away any talk of the pre-fight odds.
“I have never once in my life looked at odds. I don’t even know how odds work,” he said.
“I don’t pay attention to that. But I understand the underdog thing. I’ve been the underdog for large parts of my career. People remember when I was champion, and I was the favorite in those fights, but I was the underdog for a long time before that.
“I have no problem being the underdog. It’s a fight: to true veterans, it doesn’t matter. It’s a fight. All the other incidentals — the home crowd, the walkouts, this and that — don’t matter.”
What does matter to Henderson is the chance to compete in the Grand Prix, and the chance to capture his third major championship belt.
“I’ve been waiting for Bellator to finally do a Lightweight Grand Prix. They’ve never yet done lightweight; everyone I’d see, I’d be like, ‘When are we showing the lightweights some love?’ Now, it’s our time to shine and put on a show for Bellator,” he said.
“I think winning this Grand Prix would be pretty amazing. I’ve done a lot of work. All the decisions I’ve made… winning this Grand Prix, getting this third belt of mine, it means everything to me.”