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Scott Coker: Bellator will 'definitely' talk to Benson Henderson 'once he's free'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With Benson Henderson fulfilling the final fight of his UFC contract last week, and the lightweight division the deepest in its company, it would seem to make sense that Bellator would be interested in the former WEC and UFC champion.

Bellator president Scott Coker confirmed he has interest, but also noted that there has been no contact between the two sides. He's currently trying to find out exactly what Henderson can or can't do.

"We're trying to find out if he's free yet," Coker said. "They (UFC) may have an exclusive negotiating period. We're trying to find out what the situation is. Once he's free, we'll definitely have a conversation with him. He's a great talent, he's an amazing talent. He'll be highly coveted. We'll see where his head is at but we'll definitely have that conversation."

Henderson (23-5) is in an interesting position, in that he's the biggest name in a long time who has allowed his UFC contract to run out by choice. Coker noted that UFC deals as it regards to contracts expiring, exclusive negotiation periods and rights of first refusal can be different.

Currently, Bellator has some proven draws and name fighters, but they are older fighters. They have some good young talent, but no one that is a proven top draw. Henderson, at 32, would be both, and that may also be a reason the UFC would match any outside offer, as it did when Gilbert Melendez agreed to a strong Bellator deal. The UFC matched it and retained his services. 

Henderson has fought at both lightweight and welterweight of late. As a welterweight, he could viably walk in and get a title shot as he'd be the biggest name, by far, in the division. But the lightweight division in Bellator is deeper in talent, with names like champion Will Brooks, Michael Chandler, Josh Thomson (who Henderson beat in a very close and somewhat controversial decision when both were in the UFC), Dave Jansen, Marcin Held, Derek Anderson and Patricky Freire.

Since Bellator is built around driving television ratings, Henderson could be a coup, as he has, more often than not, done above average numbers when used as a television headliner in the UFC. While B.J. Penn appearing was a big part of the reason, when Henderson defended the title against Nate Diaz, it was the third-highest rated FOX special since the current contract with UFC began.