Benson Henderson's lightweight clash against Michael Johnson was never officially finalized for July 12's The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale, but according to UFC officials last month, the mid-summer collision of contenders was pretty much the plan. Or, at least it was.
Henderson was forced to withdraw from the unofficial bout two weeks ago for undisclosed reasons. Johnson's next move now remains mystery, while Henderson appeared on Tuesday's episode of The MMA Hour to confirm what many already feared.
"I had an injury," the former UFC lightweight champion revealed. "I won't be cleared for a little while, so I had to respectfully bow out of that one. I was kind of disappointed in myself, but you've got do what the doctors say because ultimately they have the piece of paper they have to sign off for you, and my doctor wouldn't do that. So I'm not cleared."
Henderson elected to stay mum on the specific nature of the injury, although in that regard, Johnson did not do him any favors.
Speaking this week to MMA Junkie, Johnson said he was informed that Henderson suffered a "detached retina" while in training. When asked Tuesday by host Ariel Helwani if the injury was in fact an eye injury, Henderson acknowledged that "it was in that area," but declined to elaborate.
"I probably won't ever say exactly what it is, you know?" he said. "With some of those injuries, you're hurt, you are injured, but the rest of your body feels perfectly fine. So in that sense, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with. I felt just fine, I wanted to go do whatever, but not being allowed to even though the rest of your body feels just fine, that kind of sucked. I was kind of sad about that. I probably won't ever actually fully disclose what it is."
Henderson (22-5) last fought in February when he submitted hulking blue-chip welterweight prospect Brandon Thatch in a short-notice throwback to MMA's olden days of David vs. Goliath matches. The win righted Henderson's career after a pair of troubling losses to Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos, both of which were fights that ended in some level of controversy -- Cerrone for its divisive scorecards and dos Anjos for its quick-trigger stoppage.
With a victory and a newfound wave of momentum in his back pocket, Henderson thought the worst of his hard luck streak was finally behind him. But now, after suffering his harshest setback yet, it's up in the air when Henderson will even be cleared to return at all.
"It was hard to deal with, man," Henderson said. "It was a true test of my... I had to lean on God a lot for that one, I can't lie about that. I definitely had to lean on him to stay positive, to stay in the right mind frame, to not just go to McDonalds for the sweet tea and Big Mac, then head over to Burger King for a Whopper and their cinnamon bites, then head over to Dairy Queen for dessert. Just not to be too sad about it, man.
"It was good though," Henderson added. "You need to go through trials and tribulations. The sharpest knife in the world, if it's constantly being used ... it's going to get dull after a while. You need to have a sharpener. You need to put that knife against the sharpener to grind it up, to make it tough, to keep it sharp. So the same thing I think for myself, for everybody, we need those trials and tribulations. We need those hard times to make us a stronger, better person, and that was definitely a hard time for myself."
Henderson said he plans to visit his doctor next week, where he'll hopefully receive a concrete timetable for his return. As a Korean-American by blood on his mother's side, Henderson's goal is to ultimately land a date on the UFC's inaugural trip to South Korea, which is currently slated for Nov. 28 at Seoul's Olympic Gymnastics Arena.
His situation remains a fluid one with no clear end date, although if Henderson does return to full health quick enough to fight in November and can't land a No. 1 contender fight at 155 pounds, his comeback could very well mark the start of a new run in the welterweight division.
"I'll do whatever it is I physically, possibly can," Henderson said. "I will be ready for that Korea card. And you're going to see a whole new beast.
"I think we decided, my coach and I, John Crouch, to go up to 170. We're going to take the time off to rebuild my body. We're going to do a whole new unveiling for 170. I'm trying to walk around at 182 to 185, walk around at maybe six- or five-percent body fat, and just be explosive. Really open some eyes up with my next fight at 170."