‘Anyone, anywhere' has always been somewhat of a personal mantra for former UFC champion Benson Henderson, and never was that clearer than this past Saturday. After spending his career competing -- and largely thriving -- in the lightweight division, Henderson abruptly jumped up a weight class, stepping in to fight blue-chip welterweight prospect Brandon Thatch on two weeks' notice in the main event of UFC Fight Night 60, replacing an injured Stephen Thompson with barely a moment's hesitation.
"(UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva texted me during the fights on Saturday, asking me if I'd be willing to go to 170, help the UFC out. They needed a main event at 170, they lost their guy. So sure, I'll help you guys out," Henderson explained on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"It was a pretty good opportunity. I have been thinking about the idea, open to the idea of going to 170. It had to be the right match-up at the right time, all that sort of stuff. We thought this one was a good match-up, good timing, I'm still in shape. I'm in-shape all the time, but being so close to the last fight, I'm feeling pretty good (with my) cardio, so we thought let's do it, let's go for it."
Henderson has always been one of the heavier fighters in the UFC's lightweight division, often needing a towel to hit the 155-pound limit after admittedly grueling weight cuts for his thick five-foot-nine frame. So in that sense, a move to welterweight isn't particularly surprising. Henderson has been publicly mulling over the idea ever since his Aug. 2014 loss to Rafael dos Anjos. But still, he insists that the fight against Thatch is for now just a "pit-stop", a test run to see how his body adapts against the bigger fighters at 170 pounds.
More remarkable, it seems, is the timetable with which Henderson is working from. The 31-year-old accepted the Thatch fight just two weeks after his heartbreaking Jan. 18 decision loss to Donald Cerrone, which, itself, was a fight that Henderson accepted on ridiculously short notice after original opponent Eddie Alvarez pulled out in mid-January. Twelve out of 14 media scores on MMADecisions.com scored the closely fought bout for Henderson, but ultimately the judges saw things the other way, awarding Cerrone a controversial unanimous decision.
But where others would complain, Henderson only used the moment to show his resolve in the face of adversity.
"I wrestled all growing up since I was 13 years old, 12 years old. In wrestling you can have the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching loss, and 20 minutes later you have to go up again and wrestle again and you have another tough match," Henderson said. "So wrestling definitely helps you a lot, in life in general, and when it comes to accepting a loss, manning up, moving forward. That's what I was able to do with Cerrone.
"The judges, you know, announced their decision. I don't agree with it, but it is what it is. You can cry about it as much as you want. You can whine. You can be a crybaby, so to speak, about it. But at the end of the day, it doesn't do anything. All the time, all the effort, all the energy you spent crying about it, whining about it, you gotta get back in the gym at some point in time. So I was able to get back into the gym on that Wednesday or Thursday after our fight. I was back in the gym the next week and I put all my energy and my focus on getting better, getter one-percent better every day."
Henderson acknowledges that things would probably have ended differently if he and Cerrone were given two more rounds to settle their differences, though in the end, there's no sense dwelling on the past.
After tying B.J. Penn's record for most consecutive lightweight title defenses just two years ago, Henderson now finds himself riding the first two-fight losing streak of his career. But Henderson has always been about the bright side of things, and at least this time around he won't have to kill himself to cut weight.
"I am very, very excited about that," Henderson said with a laugh. "To be able to train and compete and do everything, and not have to worry about, not have to stress about, not have to physically go through the drastic cutting of your calories, the drastic losing of water weight, you have no idea how excited I am for that."