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Former UFC champion Benson Henderson signs with Bellator

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Benson Henderson just turned the MMA world on its ear.

The former UFC lightweight champion said he would be leaving the UFC for Bellator in an announcement on his website Monday morning.

"I'm beyond excited for this next phase of my career, it's a big move, like any move when switching employers or jobs after having worked somewhere for such a long time," he wrote.

Henderson (23-5), who will appear on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani on Monday, became a free agent after his win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night 79 in November. He is the most high-profile fighter ever to leave the UFC for Bellator.

Henderson, 32, has won two in a row and four of six overall. In his illustrious career, "Smooth" has headlined 10 UFC events.

"I'd be remiss to not thank [UFC president] Dana White and [CEO] Lorenzo Fertitta for the opportunities they presented me, you guys have helped me change my life for the better and to be able to provide my family with the things I didn't have while growing up," Henderson wrote. "For that I'll always have the utmost appreciation. Thanks for all the advise you guys gave too, both business wise and personal."

Henderson won the UFC lightweight title from Frankie Edgar in February 2012 and held it until falling to Anthony Pettis in August 2013. He remains one of the top fighters in the world at both lightweight and welterweight.

"To my fans, thanks for all the love and support, I'll keep giving you my all, opening up my heart and soul inside that cage," Henderson wrote. "I'm excited for this next chapter and building new relationships with guys I've heard nothing but great things about like Scott Coker, Rich Chou and Mike Kogan."