Benson Henderson is one of the most underrated prospects in the game right now – a two-time All-American with an exciting, aggressive style, he’s a joy to watch in the cage and has the record to bear it out. Heavy’s Jeremy Botter sat down with Henderson in advance of this weekend’s fight with Donald Cerrone – check it out.
Heavy.com: Donald Cerrone has been pretty dismissive of you in recent interviews, making it seem as though you’re more of a roadblock on his way to getting the grudge match with Jamie Varner than an actual opponent.
Do you feel that he’s being disrespectful, and is he making a big mistake in looking past your upcoming bout?
Ben Henderson: I know Donald and he knows me. I am sure deep down inside, he knows I’m not a stepping stone.
We are fighting for contendership status and there is nothing more important to me then fighting Jamie Varner in Arizona for the REAL WEC title. I have trained hard for Cowboy, and I expect this to be an exciting fight. It will be every thing the fans expect from a main event.
But I’ll be leaving the fight with my hand raised.
Heavy.com: Cerrone is a vaunted striker, but most of his wins have come by submission. Does that affect your game plan for this fight at all, or will you try to impose your will on him using your wrestling strength?
Ben Henderson: We don’t prepare for incomplete fighters at the Lab MMA. We bring in the best strikers, wrestlers and submission artists we can find.
I’ve trained with guys like Shannon Gugerty, Demarques Johnson, Efrain Escudero, Seth Baczynski and many more. This has been a great camp where I could feel my core strengths improving daily.
I expect to put on my fight and execute my game plan. Donald better be completely ready, because I know I am.
Heavy.com: Speaking of wrestling: you were a two-time NAIA All-American. How did you get started in the sport? Was it something you started at a very young age?
Ben Henderson: At an early age I was into taekwondo and I think my love for grappling arts just evolved from that. I love jiu-jitsu and wrestling, and I have been training with some of the best striking coaches available. I feel like my entire game is evolving.
I love competing and testing my mind and body, both in the gym and in the cage.
Heavy.com: What made you decide to make the transition to mixed martial arts?
Ben Henderson: I think all grapplers do the sport for the passion. You rarely hear of sold out wrestling matches or grappling tournaments. I can’t think of any family holiday based around grappling.
So as your college career ends you either have to look at being a coach or finding a way to compete. MMA was that outlet for me. I had always been intrigued by it, but it was basically a “dare” from a friend who thought I would never do something like cage fighting. I said “sign me up, lets do it”.
And here I am, fighting to be in position to fight one of the best guys in the 155 pound weight class. When I beat Cerrone, I will be able to face off with Jamie Varner, who I believe is the best fighter in our division right now. I am so blessed to be here.
Heavy.com: Taking a look back at all of your fights, which one is the most important or meaningful victory for you? Would beating Cerrone instantly take the top spot on that list of important victories?
Ben Henderson: I think fighting for EVO MMA right before coming to the WEC was the best. We had the home town crowd on my side and we wanted to face a well known opponent and showcase that I belong with Zuffa.
The fight was a tough war, but fighting in front of my friends and family was amazing.
I expect that I’ll be the underdog against Donald, and beating him will be one of the best nights of my life.
Heavy.com: What’s your ultimate goal in this sport?
Ben Henderson: To be the best fighter in my division and set a good example for this sport. I want the world to see that MMA fighters are not all that different from other elite athletes around the world.
Our sport is amazing, and the sacrifice and commitment it takes to be a top level contender is more then most athletes could stand. I want to represent the positive aspects of this sport. I want to be a “stay in school, don’t do drugs and be a good person” role model for the youth of our sport.
Heavy.com: Thanks for talking to us today, and good luck on Saturday night.
Ben Henderson: Thank you and thanks to the man upstairs for all the blessings he has given us and those he has bestowed upon me. Thank you to the LAB MMA, MTX Audio, my training partners, coaches and the WEC for making this fight possible.
Check out our MMA Interview Archive for tons more interviews.