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With his victory in Seoul, Benson Henderson is free to get his money’s worth

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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After he defeated Jorge Masvidal in his traditional roulette style (split decision), Benson Henderson got real cryptic out there in Seoul, South Korea. In the post-fight interview, Bendo — not breathing hard at all after 25 minutes of showcase technique — wanted to know if his performance was impressive. More specifically, if it was "impressive enough to warrant facing off with you."

Not "you" the Fight Pass subscriber, but the general You. The vaguely specific You, which is meant for whatever direction is looking to get some.

As he was saying this, Henderson — a glaring free agent in a game with so few — was taking the red tape off his gloves. He then laid his gloves on the canvas, a gesture that could mean anything, since he’s part Korean. Could it mean adios?

Maybe.

"Smooth" is free to test the MMA waters. In fact, Bendo is a lot of things just about now. He’s a former UFC champion who can fight in two weight classes, and on a moment’s notice if needed. As he now makes himself available for a tug-of-war to acquire his services, his only loyalty as of Saturday — as he’s always quick to remind you — belongs solely to the Man Upstairs.

This is known as leverage. Benson Henderson is now in the hands of divination (and his agent).

And this isn’t the most familiar feeling. 

The UFC usually extends its most coveted fighters well before those fighters can get to a point of free agency. Maybe the UFC doesn’t mind losing the 32-year old Henderson; after all, it turned a cold shoulder on Phil Davis not that long ago, who was a top five fighter in the light heavyweight division. But then again, that would seem like a stretch.

Henderson could prop a tent-pole up with his toothpicks alone. Bellator is well aware of this fact. More importantly, so is the UFC. Coming off of back-to-back wins over Brandon Thatch and now Masvidal in his new mode as a welterweight, Henderson has spiked his own value. Maybe he was never a pay-per-view king when he held the belt, but he held it. He is a former champion who not that long ago was talking about breaking all of Anderson Silva’s records. And he’s put himself into a position to get paid. If he was gambling on his contract, the gamble paid off.

Henderson’s entrance into free agency is different.

Davis had fought to five straight decisions, including a split decision loss to Ryan Bader in his last fight. With an inability to reach the top himself, he was snuffing out contenders in such unimaginative ways that he became the most aggravating kind of gatekeeper. He became awkwardly expendable.

Maybe Josh Koscheck was speaking directly to fighters like Henderson when, after signing with Bellator, he encouraged his fellow fighters to find out their own value through free agency. Who knows how hard the UFC tried to re-sign Henderson before UFC Fight Night 79 — or before his short notice fight with Thatch — but Henderson is now in that boat. And he’s going to rock it, just because he can. His situation is of course very different from other recent free agents.

Koscheck was coming off of five straight losses, the last four which were finishes. Even Josh Thomson, another recent free agent who signed with Bellator, had dropped three in a row in the UFC (including a narrow split decision against Henderson). Those guys arrived to Bellator via push broom.

Whereas Benson Henderson has shown no diminution in ability. In fact, he looks to be getting better, which was displayed in every possible way against the tough Masvidal in Korea. There’s a sense of reinvention going on with him in his new weight class. His only losses in the last eight years have come against former UFC champion Anthony Pettis (twice), current champion Rafael dos Anjos and current title challenger Donald Cerrone.

Henderson is still vital. He makes for a big fight against anybody, whether it’s a UFC welterweight, a UFC lightweight, Paul Daley, Koscheck or Will Brooks. It doesn’t matter to Bendo who stands in front of him. Not that long ago he thought he signed on to face Khabib Nurmagomedov, right at a time when nobody wanted to face the undefeated Dagestani. It turned out he was fighting Rustam Khabilov. All the same to Bendo. He’ll fight them all. Including Andrey Koreshkov, the current welterweight Bellator champ.

Henderson’s in a good position. He’s perhaps the most coveted active free agent since Dan Henderson after his UFC 100 knockout of Michael Bisping. We don’t usually see a name like his go up for grabs to the highest bidder.

So, where does "Smooth" end up? Let the drums roll.