With Benson Henderson completing his most recent UFC contract last weekend with a win over Jorge Masvidal, where will his next fight happen? Will the UFC pay him whatever he wants? Will he make it to free agency? Would the UFC let him move on to Bellator or elsewhere?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It seems strange we’re even talking about Benson Henderson staying with the UFC, as he’s undoubtedly one of the top 5 to 10 fighters in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions in the world. The release of elite, but yawn-inducing, fighters such as Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, and Yushin Okami has put non-champs on notice. If you aren’t even marginally exciting, and if you have zero shot at ever getting the belt, you may be on your way out, regardless of how good you are.
Having trouble sleeping? Go watch a replay of the recent Fitch vs. Okami fight in the WSOF. I can rant all I want about how these guys are top fighters and the UFC can’t claim to have the best if they aren’t part of the roster, but I’m not watching that garbage. I would literally rather go visit a dentist than to put myself through this tedium.
So the question in Benson Henderson contract negotiations becomes first, does the UFC want him back? Secondly, if so, at what price? While Henderson is the epitome of a point fighter who goes to decision, he’s got a bit more to offer than the aforementioned trio of grind-the-audience-to-sleep fighters. Henderson could conceivably take the title back at some point. He’s still young, talented enough, and has a very complete fight game. He’s also become much more interesting, as watching him fight massively larger people as an undersized welterweight (assuming he fights real welterweights and not more pumped up lightweights like Masvidal) has a certain fascinating quality to it. His South Korean heritage also works in his favor, as he’s a nice chip to play as the UFC tries to expand their world footprint.
The only way Henderson doesn’t make it to free agency is if the UFC makes him an offer he is happy with. This is really a no lose proposition for him. No one is going to force him to sign a bad deal, as the UFC’s exclusive rights do expire in a reasonable amount of time. In the event he is able to talk deal with other promotions though, there’s a chance for him to show some gamesmanship in the business side of things and to put the UFC’s current endorsement prohibition to the test.
The UFC has the right to match contracts offered by other promotions, as they did with Gilbert Melendez. The match is not a word-for-word one, rather the material terms of the deal have to be met. The UFC has the financial resources to pay any amount of money that Bellator (the most likely suitor) may think to throw at Henderson. Matching a contract is not an issue for them. As we all know, the UFC does not allow individual in-ring endorsements for athletes at the moment. Henderson should have a pretty good idea of what he can get in that market. A Bellator deal with Henderson should include both the right to in ring sponsors and include a guarantee that Henderson will receive a certain amount of income via in-ring endorsement, or that Bellator will match the difference by 50%.
If Henderson’s pay with the UFC is equal to his pay plus endorsements in Bellator, then the lack of in-ring advertisement money isn’t hurting Henderson whatsoever. If the UFC were just to match the pay of Henderson were getting directly from Bellator, Henderson could potentially be losing out on substantial income. By making that type of money a material issue in Henderson’s deal, the UFC would either have to let Henderson decorate his shorts and corner banner however he sees fit, or they would have to cough up some extra dough to make up the difference. The 50% match of a predetermined number makes the income absolutely real (and thus material), but also protect Bellator against the fighter not trying to get endorsements if Bellator was guaranteeing the whole thing.
So yeah, if you’re out there listing Bendo, there’s some free negotiating advice. I’m hopeful that some fighter the UFC wants to keep goes this route, because it will be fun to watch. The UFC is showing a lot of smarts in extending their top people early, possibly to avoid this type of fight. While the Reebok deal may have screwed the fighters who were currently under contract initially, the free market has some great chances to correct, if people care to take advantage of it.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I’ll answer the last question first. Yeah, the UFC will be very willing to let him move on to Bellator or elsewhere. Henderson is extremely talented, but to the average fan he’s about as exciting as watching paint dry. He’s very talented, but people just don’t care to watch him fight. His fights are generally close and somewhat dull. He almost always goes to decisions. That in and of itself isn’t that bad, but it always seems as though he’s holding back. Fans don’t want to see that.
Henderson will stay in the UFC if he’s willing to take less than what other companies are offering, as I’m sure they will be wanting to pick up a guy of his caliber. It’s going to come down to money vs. competition. I imagine Bellator (or some other place) will be offering more money, but the UFC has the best competition. Henderson will have to decide what means more to him at this stage of his career.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
My very uneducated guess is that he’ll end up staying with the UFC following a flirtation with Bellator largely so the UFC can keep a top notch talent away from Bellator. Some might point to Josh Thomson, but Thomson has a long history with Coker while also being in the twilight of his career. Bendo still has a couple more years near the top of the lightweight and could very well become a player at welterweight. I would also think his willingness to take short notice fights makes him more valuable in the UFC’s eyes as well, as there are a bunch of lower-tier fighters who won’t do that much less the top tier.
[Ben Henderson art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]