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Benson Henderson ‘very thankful’ to not be dealing with UFC politics

Benson Henderson (pictured) fights Adam Piccolotti in a lightweight bout at Bellator 220 on Saturday in San Jose, California
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Benson Henderson has been in plenty of dramatic fights over the course of his 34-fight career. And as long as that drama remains in the cage, he’s fine with it.

It’s when he’s expected to play an entirely different game outside of competition that he gets bothered.

Henderson, 35, has avoided getting involved in personal squabbles with any of his Bellator opponents since joining the promotion three years ago. Even during his time in the UFC, “Smooth” was more known for his post-match “Praise the Lords” than his fiery insults, and he’s glad that his current employers haven’t put any pressure on him to sell himself as anything more than what he is: a former world champion hunting for another belt to add to his collection.

In a recent interview with MMA Fighting, Henderson was asked if he pays much attention to the UFC’s lightweight division that he once ruled over and whether he feels like the drama stirred up by names like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor tends to overshadow the other contenders.

“I thank the Lord I don’t have to deal with that part of the job,” Henderson answered, “And I never really dealt with it in the first place, I wasn’t one of those guys that was like, ‘Aw, I gotta deal with this.’ But whatever, it’s like water off a duck’s back. It’s no big deal.

“But man, when you’re on a six-fight, seven-fight win streak and you can’t get a title shot call, or it just doesn’t go your way. There’s a bunch of stuff, but it’s just like the politics of it, you’re not known for what you do inside the cage. You’re more known for what you do outside the cage. That very much irks me, because I’m pretty boring outside the cage. I’m a blue collar, I go to work, I bust my ass in the gym, but I’m not somebody who’s going to say something outlandish just for the sake of getting a few more Twitter followers or I’m not gonna pose naked for more Instagram followers. I’m not one of those guys that says something stupid just for the sake of getting more attention.”

Henderson (26-8) originally made a name for himself as one of the best lightweights in the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion and by the time he joined the UFC in 2011, he was already a cult hero. From there, Henderson showed that he was truly elite, winning his first seven UFC fights and capturing a world title that he successfully defended three times. Throughout, Henderson maintained the same demeanor that endeared him to fans in the first place.

Given his own climb up the ladder, he’s even more confused by how some of his peers seem to experience a drastic personality change once they get a taste of stardom.

“I think in the UFC that’s exactly the route you have to go. You have to say something incredibly stupid, you have to wear sunglasses inside to get the attention,” Henderson said. “You have to start wearing fur coats. I see these younger guys, when they get into the UFC, they’re pretty normal, straight-laced, good guys, just hard workers, that’s how they got to the UFC. And then they go on a two-fight, three-fight win streak and all of a sudden they’re wearing fur coats to media interviews and wearing sunglasses inside. It’s like, who is this guy? Where’d you come from?

“Yeah, we’re all growing, we’re all changing, you’re not going to be the same person at 29 that you were at 24, but that being said, you’re going to become somebody who wears a fur coat in the middle of July, like, come on, be serious there, kid. It is what it is, so I am very happy, very thankful that I don’t have to deal with that for sure.”

Henderson’s only immediate concern is winning his next fight, a lightweight matchup against top contender Adam Piccolotti that takes place at Bellator 220 this Saturday at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. If he can get past Piccolotti, Henderson will have won three straight, his longest streak since April 2013.

Though Piccolotti has amassed a 7-2 record in the Bellator cage and seems poised for a title shot of his own, he doesn’t have quite the experience or name value of Henderson’s previous Bellator opponents Saad Awad, Roger Huerta, Michael Chandler, Patricio Freire, and Andrey Koreshkov. But he does represent an immediate threat to Henderson’s goal of becoming a champion again.

“I think at this point, he’s the biggest fight of my life,” Henderson said of Piccolotti. “He’s what matters, whether I get another title shot. That’s really all I care about.

“I want to get that Bellator belt. I need, I will get that Bellator belt around my waist, and he is the biggest fight to determine that. So I need to go out there, I need to go beat him up, make a statement, and make a big deal, and do whatever it takes to get that shot, to get the belt around my waist.”

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