WEC featherweight champion Ben Henderson battles Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who will attend his wedding later this year, on Saturday night at WEC 48 from Arco Arena in Sacramento. The two have remained friendly since their first fight that earned Henderson the belt. The champ took some time from his final preparations to chat with Heavy MMA.
Heavy MMA: You graduated college with a double major in criminal justice and sociology. What made you decide to make fighting a career?
Ben Henderson: It was a dare to be honest. My first fight was because of a dare. A bunch of buddies sitting around and giving each other a hard time, saying I would never fight. I was like ‘Of course I will.’ So I had my first fight and I fell in love with the sport. I won so I decided to try fighting as a career and see how far it can take me.
Heavy MMA: So you are now the WEC lightweight champion and it all started because of a dare? Did you thank the guy who dared you?
Ben Henderson: (Laughing) Actually I haven’t yet but that’s a good idea. I probably should.
Heavy MMA: Can you talk about training at the MMA Lab in Arizona and how that’s helped your career?
Ben Henderson: The MMA Lab has been great for my career. They have great trainers there. We have John Crouch, one of only five guys to get a black belt under Royce Gracie. He learned his Jiu Jitsu directly from the source. Some guys learn Jiu Jitsu from this guy who learned it from that guy and so on. But in my case it goes Royce Gracie to John Crouch to me. Then I have some great kickboxing coaches and Muay Thai coaches. They do a great job. My boxing coach is George Garcia. There are great coaches and workout partners at the gym. I can trust all the guys there that if they are having a bad day they aren’t going to come in and try to knock my head off. They push me and try to make me the best that I can be. The MMA Lab has been great in general. My career has really taken off since I’ve been there.
Heavy MMA: You walk out to the cage to Christian hip-hop music and are a very religious person. Can you discuss your religious background and how it plays a part in your MMA career?
Ben Henderson: I grew up in the Church a little bit. My mother is actually Buddhist but she raised my brother and me to be Christian. I went to church all the time growing up so it’s a big part of my life. As far as being in MMA, it definitely effects how I conduct myself in the MMA world. The person who most influenced me was Alvin Robinson who fought in the UFC a couple of times. He’s a great guy. He was my mentor and my role model when I first started fighting. He taught me how to be a great fighter, how to take it professionally and how to conduct myself as a professional athlete, not a meathead cage fighter. We may not be in the NBA or the NFL but we are professional athletes and we should conduct ourselves in a certain way. He not only showed me how to do that but also how to be a strong Christian and how to be strong in my faith. The MMA world has a different sub culture and it can be tough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. I sin. Everyone is a sinner but Alvin showed me how to be involved in this lifestyle and still be a strong Christian. Before my fights I pray for strength and honor. I pretty much live my life by that code.
Heavy MMA: You haven’t lost a fight since 2006 – the only loss of your career to Chad Klingensmith. I know it was a long time ago but did you take anything from that loss?
Ben Henderson: I think the biggest thing I took from that defeat is the fact that you can’t be a part-time fighter. It’s not that you can’t because there are plenty of fighters who do it but for me to be the best that I can be I can’t do it part-time. Some guys can do it, Shane Carwin comes to mind, but from that defeat I learned you have to take fighting seriously. It’s a career to me it’s not just for fun.
Heavy MMA: You have shown an amazing ability to get out of submissions, especially the last time you fought Donald Cerrone. Frank Mir said he doesn’t think you can be submitted. Can you talk about being in those situations and your secret for getting out of them?
Ben Henderson: I think it’s just the way it is. I have a natural increased flexibility. A random person’s point of tap might be like 45 degrees but my flexibility allows me to go a little further than that. I can go a little further than most people but the biggest key is knowing the right technique on how to get out of those situations. Yes, I’m more flexible than the average person but you have to know the right defense to get out. That’s the most important thing.
Heavy MMA: You look like you are really relaxed when put into a submission attempt. Is not panicking part of that technique you are talking about?
Ben Henderson: Yes, that’s a big part. I know I have been in those positions plenty of times before and I know my breaking point. I know what I have to do to get out of it. Being able to stay calm is a huge part of that.
Heavy MMA: The last time you fought Donald Cerrone it won Fight of the Year honors from many media outlets. Do you expect another close fight at WEC 48 or do you think you have a bigger advantage this time around?
Ben Henderson: I think it’s going to be a really tough fight regardless of who wins. I’m picking myself, don’t get me wrong. I am a very confident individual. I’m not going to go in there and have a cakewalk though. And I can promise you it won’t be a cakewalk for Donald Cerrone either. It will be a good, tough battle. It will be the kind of fight fans want to see.
Heavy MMA: The last time you fought it was a close decision and some people think Cerrone won the fight. Do you want to keep it out of the judge’s hands this time around?
Ben Henderson: I do not want to leave it up to the judge’s scorecard at all. I’m a finisher. I finish fights. If you look at my career I have finished most of my fights. It’s what I do, I finish fights. I was very upset that it went to a decision but this time you can bet I’m going to finish it and leave no doubt.
Heavy MMA: You unified the lightweight title by defeating Jamie Varner. Even so, do you think people still overlook you as one of the best lightweights in the world because you don’t fight in the UFC?
Ben Henderson: I don’t think people overlook me. I don’t think I’m the best lightweights in the world. I don’t think I’m even Top 5 to be honest. I’m not there yet. I have long way to go. That being said, I have plenty of time to get there and I’m not scared of hard work. I’ll get to where I want to be eventually.
Heavy MMA: There has been talk about the WEC lightweights moving over to the UFC. That would give you a chance to fight the BJ Penn’s of the world. Is that something you would be excited about?
Ben Henderson: Very much so. Ever since I got into fighting I have made no secrets about that I want to be the best fighter on the planet. I want to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, period. To accomplish that I have to fight for it. I want to fight all the guys that are above me. Whatever ranking lists that are out there, whoever is above me, I want to fight them and I want to beat them. Most of those guys are in the UFC so give me those guys.
Heavy MMA: You have fought guys like Cerrone, Jamie Varner, Shane Roller and Anthony Njokuani – some of the best lightweights in the WEC. Who is the toughest guy you have been in the cage with?
Ben Henderson: That would probably be in the practice room. They may not have the biggest names but they are all young, tough guys. My main training partner is Chris Gruetzemacher and that boy is tough as nails. He is still young in the game but you will hear about him for sure once he makes it to the WEC. Eventually he will make it to the WEC at 145 or 155 and he’s going to make a huge name for himself. Remember you heard it here first. Also, B.J. Penn. I helped him get ready for his fight with Diego Sanchez. He is the best fighter in the world right now I think. Penn is definitely a tough, tough guy.
Heavy MMA: All the fighters you own victories over have expressed interest in getting another shot at you. Both Shane Roller and Anthony Njokuani said the winner of their bout should get a rematch if you beat Donald Cerrone. Do you think any of those guys deserves a rematch or is there anyone in particular you would like to step in the cage with?
Ben Henderson: I don’t really want to fight guys that I’ve already beaten before to be plain and simple with you. I understand Cerrone is a special case because it went to a decision. It was a close fight, I understand that. Some people say the decision was controversial or he won the fight, fine, I understand. But if I knock a guy out in 1:30, does it really make sense to fight him again? I don’t think it makes much sense to have a rematch with guys I knockout in the first round. I don’t think that’s what fans want to see. I don’t want to go through everyone I have fought before and fight them all over again. I want to fight some new blood.