If he stays in the UFC, will Benson Henderson challenge again for a UFC title at either lightweight or welterweight? Why or why not? Which weight class do you think is more likely, and why?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It is unlikely that Henderson challenges for a title again given the current trajectory of his fighting career. If I were to hazard a guess as to which is more likely, I would go with lightweight, where he held the belt and successfully defended it three times. Henderson just doesn’t have the size or the power to pose much of a legitimate threat to the top fighters in the welterweight division. Can you really see him standing toe to toe with Robbie Lawler? Can you see him out-wrestling Johny Hendricks? Henderson was a pretty big lightweight, but he looks downright puny compared to the fighters in his new division.
The only way Henderson would get a shot would be if the UFC decided to fast-track him for some reason. Maybe they throw some clause into his new contract that two more wins will get him a shot (they might as well, it’s not going to happen). Give him a fight against Rick Story, and then if he wins that, throw him a top seven guy on his way to a championship fight. It’s really not enough to be deserving of the shot, but I don’t see him taking three fights at welterweight if even one is against a top five opponent. For the record, I’ve be morbidly curious to see how he fares against a Lawler, Carlos Condit, or Tyron Woodley. I don’t imagine very well, but just seeing how he even tried to fight them would be fun to watch.
Lightweight has its own issues for Henderson. Because he’s bouncing around right now between weight classes (or maybe he’s just a welterweight), he’s potentially losing ground in any type of contender order there. There’s also the issue of having lost to the champ, the guy about to fight to the champ, and the the last champ (twice). Rafael dos Anjos or Donald Cerrone holding the title is better for Henderson than Anthony Pettis, but if it’s any of these three holding the belt, Henderson is going to have to do a bit of extra work to move up again than fighters who don’t have recent losses to those three. Throw in a rather boring style that doesn’t finish fights, and there’s just not many quick paths to a championship for Henderson. His best chance gain significant ground would be a win over Eddie Alvarez or Khabib Nurmagomedov to at least put himself back into the conversation. I’m not sure I agree to fight Henderson if I’m those guys, as it’s a dangerous fight with not a whole lot to gain due to where Henderson currently rests in the lightweight rankings.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
No, I don’t see it. I suppose he could make a run, but it doesn’t seem all that likely. Lightweight seems to be the better division for him, as he enjoyed a lot of success in that division. However, he’s more likely to challenge for the title in the welterweight division. I think the lightweight division has more potential challengers who can beat Henderson than welterweight. That does count featherweights who might possibly move up, though. I don’t think that welterweight is easy by any means, but I think he’s shown he can make the transition and still be a good fighter. His wrestling and ground game translates well to welterweight so I think he can have good success.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I don’t see Bendo challenging for the welterweight title. He is far too small to be a consistent serious threat to the elite. Sure, he beat Brandon Thatch and did so on short notice, but who qualifies as Thatch’s biggest victory? Take your pick between Paulo Thiago or Justin Edwards. Hardly inspiring. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t intriguing fights for him to take at welterweight (Gunnar Nelson is the first name that comes to mind), but he climbed to the top of the mountain at lightweight, and I believe that is still where he is at his best. Sure, he lost three of his last five there, but there isn’t a single lightweight among the names to which he has lost (Anthony Pettis, Rafael dos Anjos, and Donald Cerrone). Those might be the only dudes who can beat him in the division, and he just so happened to be pitted against them.
[Ben Henderson art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]