What’s your reaction and opinion on Benson Henderson signing with Bellator MMA? Did the UFC err in failing to offer him more? How do you expect him to fare in two Bellator divisions?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I’m a little surprised that the UFC let him go, if only for the reason that he could help them draw in the Asian market. Outside of that, allowing Benson Henderson to jump ship is consistent with other top talents they’ve allowed to leave over the past couple of years. The UFC has shown a willingness to let go of top 10 divisional talents such as Jon Fitch, Yushin Okami, and Jake Shields due to their boring fight style and inability to rouse the general interest of the public. These moves have paid off for the most part, as no one really cared about them when they left, and people cared even less when they failed outside the UFC. Phil Davis has been a notable exception, as he stands a good chance of winning Bellator’s Light Heavyweight belt, but it’s hard to say that’s been a real big loss for the UFC.
Henderson is now a member of that competitive, but somewhat boring, class of fighters such as the aforementioned Okami, Shields, and Fitch. The signing continues Scott Coker’s uneven term as President of Bellator. If you can figure out what Coker’s end game is with organization, feel free to let me know. Every time he signs a Phil Davis or Benson Henderson I applaud it as a move to secure a legitimate top talent. Then he baffles me with resurrecting Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie more than a decade after everyone should have stopped caring about them. Oh, a reminder there’s also two guys named Kimbo and Dada facing off this month, lest you need to fill some sort of celebrity (d-list of course) deathmatch void in your life. Henderson is a great signing in a vacuum, a high level athlete who has held a title in the biggest MMA organization on the planet. Joining an organization that vacillates from attempting to be the UFC and circus sideshow is only consistent with Bellator’s inconsistency.
Did the UFC err in failing to offer him more? I think the question can be stated differently in “Did the UFC err in letting Benson Henderson leave?” The UFC could have kept Henderson by just matching Bellator’s offer, but chose not to. They did make a differently constructed offer, with allegedly more potential upside, but Henderson concluded that the initial money and endorsements accessible in the Bellator deal offered him a better chance to maximize his earnings than what the UFC had on the table. Henderson’s unlikely to ever challenge for the Welterweight or Lightweight title in the UFC at this juncture in his career, so the Bellator offer was probably the right call. He also stands to gain increased exposure being a big fish in a smaller pond.
The answer to whether or not the UFC erred probably depends on what the UFC’s goals are. If the goal is to have all the best fighters in the world on their roster, than they did indeed err. If the goal is to make money, then from their point of view, they made a sound financial decision. Henderson ended up fighting a fairly boring style that resulted in next to nothing in the finish department. He came out on the beneficial end of of some controversial (wrong) decisions, and the fan weren’t embracing him. How sad is it when you propose to your girlfriend in the Octagon after a win and the fans halfheartedly boo? Well, it’s much sadder than if they cheered, and it’s even sadder if they enthusiastically booed because at least they care. People may hate Jon Jones enough to pay to see him lose, but that’s worlds better than just not caring at all. The UFC decided he wasn’t worth what Bellator was offering from a business sense, so they constructed an offer they were comfortable with. From the sense of making money, I’ll assume they’re better at knowing how to do it than I do and are probably right. While it may lend credence to those who criticize the UFC for proclaiming itself to be the best while not having all the best fighters, I don’t think the UFC really cares about that particular criticism unless it starts costing them dollars.
Henderson should do well in Bellator. He fought legitimate, albeit not top-end, contenders at 170 pounds in the UFC and wasn’t outclassed. While his run at lightweight appeared to be on the decline, he still had the ability to hang with almost anyone and beat any of the top contenders as well. A fight between Henderson and Will Brooks needs to happen, if only so we can see how Brooks really stacks up against a premier talent. Bendo could be the Conor McGregor of Bellator, capturing two belts and holding them both simultaneously. Granted, he’ll be the free TV version that not many care about, but if he’s making a living and supporting his family, more power to him. Expect a lot more fighters to follow his lead and test free agency. The top talents will almost always be locked up with lucrative extensions, but those unhappy with their extension offers may ultimately benefit from Bendo’s example.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It’s a big signing for Bellator because Henderson is a guy who’s actually in or near his prime. He’s not a faded star, but a guy who can really make big waves for them. At the same time, though, he wasn’t known as an exciting fighter. It’s a loss for the UFC, but not a big one. He’ll do his thing for Bellator and help bolster them, but it’s not a big loss for the UFC. They’ll continue to do their business as always, but they lose a little credibility here because he’s a good fighter. In this case, though, it’s more about what this might lead to than what it is. Losing Henderson alone isn’t that bad, but if this leads to other fighters leaving, then it is.
In the end, the UFC will be fine and Henderson made the right move for himself. I think he goes on to win titles in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. It might not be at the same time, depending on how schedules work out, but he’s certainly got the talent to be a multi-division champion.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
No surprise. He said he was going to test the free agent market which meant that he had an interest in going to Bellator from the beginning. That isn’t even mentioning the fact he hasn’t exactly been a favorite of the UFC for quite a while now. The UFC was hoping that they would be getting an exciting fan favorite when he was crowned champion, but he was fully entrenched in his newly found cautious style that allowed him to keep his belt for a while, but didn’t garner many fans. The writing was on the wall. I will admit that I was hoping that the UFC would save face by giving him an offer he deserved as his three UFC losses were to the current and former lightweight champions and a contentious decision to Donald Cerrone leaving open a healthy debate as to whether or not he has declined. I don’t necessarily think they erred as he wasn’t going to be back in the title picture any time soon. I just wish they would have shown him more respect.
The best way to sum up the situation is that he is probably going to be worth every penny that Bellator is paying him while he wouldn’t be worth the same paycheck if it were coming from the UFC. This just has the stench of a deal that worked out well for everyone.
Bellator is lacking depth in most divisions with welterweight and lightweight being no exceptions. There isn’t any hulking Brandon Thatch-like figures at 170 to push him to the physical limit. Andrey Koreshkov is a fine opponent who doesn’t get his just due, but hasn’t faced anyone nearly as good as Bendo. Will Brooks is the only one at lightweight who I think could beat Bendo at lightweight, but I don’t think Bellator really wants to match them up as Brooks is likely to be a free agent soon and his price would be driven up considerably with a win over the former UFC champ which would also result in greater interest from the UFC… something they will inevitably have anyway. Even if Bendo can’t beat Brooks or doesn’t get the chance to do so, he’ll be the Bellator MVP with his name recognition and ability to fight in two divisions.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
I’ll be honest with you; There’s only one proper opinion here, and all other opinions are both incorrect and self-serving. Henderson took the money, as every fighter should do. He’s going to have fewer fights with elite fighters, which is also good for his long term health, which is good for his family as a whole. Any fighter who chases anything other than money is a fool, deserving of mockery, scorn, and disdain for their choosing to chase fleeting glory from fickle fans over chasing money for their family.
Let’s put it this way. Say Henderson re-signed with the UFC and retired there after six incredibly difficult fights, never sniffing a title shot. After that $450,000 (gross income, mind you) is gone (that’s a wild guess, for illustrative purposes only), how much money are you going to contribute to the college funds he sets up for his kids? Yeah, me neither. So anyone who wants to tell me he’s ducking the tough fights can kiss my ass.
As to how he’ll fare in Bellator’s welterweight and lightweight divisions, does it matter? They only have two top-30 WWs, and he’s going to decimate both Andrey Koreshkov and Douglas Lima. LW has two fighters who will hang with him in Will Brooks and Michael Chandler. But Henderson’s no fool. He knows Brooks beats him more than 50% of the time, so he’s going to fight at WW until Brooks fights out the last two fights on his current deal. After those two he’s looking at a rematch with a rapidly aging Josh Thomson, Marcin Held, Melvin Guillard… need I continue? Again, he jumped for the money, and he should be applauded for his courage to put his family ahead of his personal glory.
[Photo (c) Ron Chenoy via USA Today Sports]
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