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Benson Henderson admits he had hidden toothpick in mouth for ‘a lot of fights,’ recalls time he accidentally swallowed it

Now that he’s retired, Benson Henderson no longer has to play coy when it comes to one of the biggest questions that followed him throughout his MMA career.

So, yes: Henderson did indeed fight with a toothpick in his mouth. More than just once.

“For a lot of fights, I had the toothpick, yeah,” Henderson admitted recently on The MMA Hour. “For a lot of fights. It was just a bad habit. I would literally, like, go out to lunch or dinner or breakfast, whatever — you know, you have the toothpicks from the restaurant. I would just forget I have it in, I would practice, I would do whatever. I’d leave it in for fights.”

Henderson’s unique relationship with toothpicks was always one of the crazier mysteries in MMA during his days as UFC lightweight champion. After first being spotted during his 2012 title defense against Nate Diaz, the toothpick continued to pop up every now and then throughout Henderson’s octagon career, often to the bewilderment of fans, UFC officials, and fellow fighters alike who wondered how a professional athlete could actually compete against the best in the world with a toothpick hidden in his mouth.

Somehow, though, Henderson did just that.

And only once — back in his pre-UFC days — did Henderson’s precarious habit actually threaten to send him to the hospital because of a toothpick situation gone awry.

“I’d graduated college, and then I went home to surprise my mom,” Henderson said. “I surprised her when she was coming down the stairs, and I had a toothpick in like I always do, and I was a little bit older. I was mature enough to realize how dumb that was, how not smart that was, how crazy that was. But I scared her — and I swallowed my toothpick.

“She was coming down the stairs. I go, ‘A-ha! Boo!’ And I scare my mom, a little short 4-foot-9 Korean woman. She’s like, ‘Oh!’ And then she saw me swallow my toothpick — and then she got really scared. Like, the level of frightened-ness on her face was hilarious, it was super funny. So I started laughing as I’m choking on my toothpick, I started laughing even more. Then I swallowed the dang thing. I was choking and I was laughing even more.

“I don’t think anything happened,” Henderson continued. “I think there’s no permanent damage. I was like, ‘Am I’m OK?? Is there anything wrong with me??’ And I went in the mirror, check my mouth out. I was like, ‘Ah, I think I’m OK.’ My mom hit me, like, ‘What are you doing?! Don’t do that with a toothpick in your mouth!! Oh my God!’”

Fortunately, Henderson said that was the only time his toothpick proclivity reared its head in a potentially harmful way.

A father of four, Henderson told MMA Fighting in 2022 that he’d finally given up toothpicks for good out of fear of his children trying to replicate the habit to potentially dangerous results.

And to his surprise, it wasn’t too much of a drastic change.

“Not as hard as I thought it’d be,” Henderson said with a laugh.

“I just started chewing gum more. Instead of toothpick, I’d would just have a piece of gum, so then I started chewing gum way too much. But it wasn’t that hard.”

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