Bellator made Benson Henderson an offer he couldn't refuse.
The former UFC lightweight champion said that Bellator blew him away with a beneficial contract, other "intangibles" and an incredibly welcoming attitude. That's why Henderson said he chose Bellator over the industry leader. And he added that it wasn't all that difficult.
"Ultimately, it's what's best for myself and my family," Henderson told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Bellator presented one heck of an offer you couldn't say no to. They made it pretty easy on me. They opened up the red carpet, they were super nice. Very much taking care of me and showing how much they wanted myself on board, wanted myself a part of their team. When you get that sort of reception, it's hard to say no."
On Monday, Henderson announced on his website that he would be leaving the UFC for the promotion owned by Viacom. "Smooth" had been with the UFC since 2011 and spent even longer under the Zuffa banner with WEC, where he was also a lightweight champion. Henderson has headlined 10 UFC events and is the most high-profile fighter to make this jump.
The Arizona resident said base pay was far down on the list of things that mattered to him. With Bellator, he is able to wear his sponsors while fighting, unlike in the UFC, which has a uniform deal with Reebok.
"For a lot of other fighters, [Reebok] was not the best look for us," Henderson said. "For me, I'll say it definitely affected my decision in the grand scheme of things."
Henderson, 32, also said his Bellator deal allows him to compete in kickboxing and jiu-jitsu tournaments. He said it was not your "run-of-the-mill" MMA contract and Bellator was open to some of his creative ideas, though he did not go into too much detail.
The UFC, Henderson said, was actually third in line. Henderson said ONE Championship came in second after an impressive offer from matchmaker Matt Hume. But that doesn't mean the UFC wasn't also a player in the negotiations.
"The UFC came with a strong offer, but it's the intangibles," Henderson said. "Sponsorships, other things. It's not just the base price.
"Bellator came with a lot of other high tangibles that the UFC just couldn't quite match."
Henderson said before he came a free agent in November after a win over Jorge Masvidal that he wanted to retire as a member of the UFC roster. It was his desire to come back and it did not work out. But Henderson is more than content with that and is excited to embark on a new journey with Bellator.
"Sports are amazing, it's transcendent stuff," Henderson said. "But in the long run the owners of the team, the owners of the leagues, the players themselves, it is a business. You have to make the best business decisions for yourself, for your family. If you have a chance to make this much money or be able to take care of your family in this way, and when you lose out on that just because you were strong-armed, so to speak, or it's looked down upon to look at your options, I say look at your options.
"It would definitely be foolish for any fighter to not at least take a look at his options, take a look at what you could get potentially elsewhere."
Henderson still has options when it comes to weight classes. He's going to be competing at both lightweight and welterweight in Bellator, he said.
"I will say I will be fighting at both weight classes," Henderson said. "I'll be bouncing back and forth. 170, 155. 155, 170. I'm getting to have some fun over there. I love being able to have the option to bounce around and not just being stuck here or stuck there. 'You're not allowed to do this.' But having the option, the ability to get creative and do what you want to do, I love that. Bellator is all about that."
Henderson has always talked about wanting gold and he said he's coming after both Bellator lightweight titleholder Will Brooks and welterweight champ Andrey Koreshkov. It's a new day for him and maybe for MMA as well.
"I'm gonna make some big waves," Henderson said. "I'm gonna make a whole explosion over there for Bellator."