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Upholding his civic duty, Benson Henderson plans to join the military reserves when he’s 33

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As former UFC and WEC champion Benson Henderson gets set to make his Bellator debut on Friday night at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, the clock is ticking. Henderson has long contended in the media that he will retire when he’s 33 years old.

He turns 33 in November of this year, which is just seven months away.

So, will be stepping away from Bellator’s cage just as he’s getting rolling? Are we seeing the last few appearances of Benson Henderson’s career? Maybe not.

"Remember I said 33 and however many months," Henderson joked with Ariel Helwani on Monday, as he sat for an in-studio appearance on The MMA Hour. "I can be 33 and eleven months."

When asked why he has for so long insisted he’d retire at 33 years old, Henderson opened up about why he made the declaration.

"The real reason, to be frank with you, is that I will end up joining the military ranks," he said. "I’ve always held a pretty strong civic duty. Us as Americans, we need to do a better job period."

Henderson, who is taking on Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 153 on Friday night, said he plans to join a branch of the military reserves, possibly the Air Force branch in Phoenix. He said that it was in his initial plan to leave MMA at that point, with the understanding that 33 was the cut off with age limitations. Yet after having talked to recruiters, he said he’s now come to understand there is a way for him to be in the reserves as well as continue competing as a prizefighter.

Henderson is one of the more decorated fighters to defect from the UFC via free agency, which he did in early February. Coming off of back-to-back wins over Brandon Thatch (on late notice) and Jorge Masvidal, Henderson has put himself in a prime position to negotiate a contract with the best suitor. He turned some heads by bolting the UFC for Bellator, which made him a bit of a pioneer in this new era of free agency.

He can become the first ever fighter to hold belts in the WEC, the UFC and in Bellator with a win over Koreshkov in his promotional debut. Koreshkov won the welterweight belt from Douglas Lima at Bellator 140 last July.

Furthermore, Henderson has his eyes on competing for Bellator’s lightweight belt down the line, currently held by Will Brooks.

Yet he says that his civic duty to do something for the country began a long time ago, and he’s not about to change his mind on it just because he’s had success in the cage.

"Kids always say for the longest time, oh I was going to join the Marines, oh I was going to join the Army, this or that," he said. "Every 22-year old says that. It’s something that I always felt. When I’m older, when I’m 50, I want to be able to tell my kids, I want to tell my grandkids, hey, you have a civic duty to your country. To serve, to give back. What have you done for your country besides eating the food and using the electricity? What have you done for your country?

"It was something I felt pretty strongly about and I’m finding out there are other ways to go about doing it, but I can do it while still having an MMA career."

When asked if he’s be willing to fight in combat if so called upon, Henderson said that he would do whatever was asked of him.

"I’d be open to it," he said. "I’ve talked to my wife about it. If that’s a possibility, if that’s a duty that that branch of the military feels I’m best fit for, sure. No problem. Is it something I want to do? I’m not 21, I’m not 18, I don’t want to go to war and do this…nah, I’m old man. I don’t need to prove myself and go to war and all this stuff. But if that’s what’s called on, and that’s what it takes, you know…"

Henderson won the UFC lightweight title in early-2012 against Frankie Edgar, and defended the belt three times before losing it to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164. He has scored victories over the likes of Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, Edgar, Josh Thomson and Donald Cerrone, to name a few.

Though he’s fought a who’s who in MMA, he admits that he didn’t know too much about his next opponent Koreshkov when he was offered the fight. 

"I was not exactly aware of who Andrey Koreshkov was," he said. "I did know there was a Russian guy who had the belt who beat Douglas Lima. I didn’t know who he was or anything else particular about him. I know a whole lot more know."

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