When Ben Henderson defeated Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight championship in February, the decision was immediately controversial. Dana White thought Edgar did enough to win. So did many fighters, like Dan Henderson, Gilbert Melendez and Dustin Poirier, who all weighed in with their opinions shortly after the fight concluded.
That was enough ammunition to help Edgar convince White that a rematch was in order. Come Saturday night's UFC 150, he gets his second chance. Now, here's where things get a little tricky. Because the lightweight title belt has been involved in a rematch three times in a row, White has said enough is enough. So even if the champion Henderson loses a razor-close, controversial decision, the division and belt will move on, and he'll have to work his way back up.
That, of course, doesn't seem particularly fair, even if it may be necessary.
But don't count Henderson among those who have any concerns about White's decision. Asked if it faced him with any more pressure, he dismissed the question.
"No, not really," he said during a recent media call. "Not at all. Dana White is Dana White. He can say what he wants to say and that’s cool. I have no problem with it, but I want to win my next fight no matter what. Whether he says, 'Oh, if you lose you're out of the UFC, or if you lose your next fight, you'll be cut, or if you lose your next fight, you'll have to go to 170, or whatever it is if you lose your next fight, I want to win my next fight, period. Very badly.
"I think you guys sometimes don't understand the desire behind fighters and wanting to win our next fight," he continued. "I don't care about all the other stuff. I just want to win my next fight, period. I don't care what the add-ons are on top of that."
Fighters often have to play a complex set of mental gymnastics when it comes to their personal goals. Henderson, for example, has openly discussed a hope of earning the spot as the world's top pound-for-pound fighter. He did so as far back as 2010, when he wasn't even yet on the UFC roster. That is obviously a title that cannot be earned in one night. Instead, it's a mythical crown that is bestowed after years of success. Each win is a building block, and each loss is a stumbling block.
As fights near, fighters divorce themselves from such thoughts. The immediacy of the action in front of you must command attention due to the inherent danger involved. Consideration of "add-ons," in Henderson's words, is simply misdirected focus. And Henderson will clearly need that focus and energy to repeat his UFC 144 result.
That night, Henderson out-pointed Edgar by scores of 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47, brilliantly using his footwork to cut off the cage and open up his own striking lanes while limiting Edgar's escape routes.
The rematch may well be won by the fighter who can execute the most effective adjustments from the first meeting. For his part, Henderson said he thinks fundamentals -- combined with execution -- could make the difference.
"At this level, fights are so close, fighters are so tough, fighters are so good, so well-prepared, a lot of times it boils down to who shows up that night," he said. "Maybe you have an off-night and don't perform at your best. Some guys have bad basketball games. They don't have a great performance at a game. Lucky for them, they have 82 games a season to redeem themselves and what not. For us, for fighters, we have to be on top of our game every time we go out. It's not just another game, like baseball or basketball. For fighters, if we have a bad performance -- this is for a world title -- there’s not a whole lot of re-do."
In Edgar's case, this time, there is a re-do. But Henderson? His reality is more urgent. He needs to win or be left behind.