Benson Henderson says “ability to get sponsors,” promised title fight were huge factors in signing with Bellator MMA

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

Benson Henderson’s decision to move to Bellator MMA after fighting out his last UFC deal was motivated by a number of factors, but chief among them were the ability to court sponsors once again and the promise of a title fight.

Henderson made just $15,000 via the UFC’s Reebok payout structure in his most recent fight, despite being a longtime headliner and former champion in the organization. In an interview with ESPN.com on Monday, Henderson said the fact that he’ll be able to garner significantly more than that in the Bellator cage per fight is huge for him.

“I won’t lie, it was a very big deal,” Henderson said. “The ability to get sponsors on your own and not have to rely on the amount that Reebok dictates to you was a huge factor. I’d be straight up lying if I said it wasn’t a very big part of my decision to go to Bellator.

“I also want to be a trailblazer for the betterment of fighters. Bellator is open to a fighters union – fighters binding together to see what’s in our best interest. That’s something you can’t even breathe about elsewhere. I think it’s a good thing for myself and other fighters to have that.”

Additionally, Henderson said his debut in Bellator will come in a fight for one of two titles, and he’s just working on deciding in which division he’d like to compete.

“Coming over from the UFC with what I’ve accomplished, yes, we knew we would have a title shot in whichever weight class we decided,” Henderson said. “We’ll see [which weight class it is]. That part is still up for discussion, and I think it’s being talked about right now between my guys and Bellator’s. It’s exciting for me. No more rematches, all new opponents to prove myself against.”

Penick’s Analysis: Despite him leaving the UFC and the myriad issues that led to that decision, Henderson also said he’s leaving on good terms with the organization, and has no ill will towards them in making this move. Still, it’s quite clear in how he’s talking about the deal and in how it’s been characterized by Dana White that he did indeed make the right deal for himself and his future here. There’s a lot more money to be made in sponsorships for a fighter like Henderson than $15K per fight. Not for every fighter, of course, but for Henderson, who has headlined several Fox events and will be given a significant push on Spike into his title fight debut, it’s going to mean a major boost to his per fight revenue, on top of getting better up front money per fight. For his career and his family, this is the right move, and if and when he fights out this deal and looks to return to the UFC – because after all, he did say he planned to end his career there – there’s a chance he could command even more money. Bellator’s lightweight field has enough interesting new opponents for him to fight right now to make it a somewhat lateral move there, and though that’s less the case at welterweight, there’s good competition there as well. Hell, he could go Conor McGregor’s route on a smaller scale with his skill set. Whichever direction he takes there, good for him on doing right by himself first over anything else.

[Photo (c) Ron Chenoy via USA Today Sports]

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