ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s a certain stigma about MMA fighters picking their next opponents among fans. The belief is if you’re a fighter, you should take whoever the UFC offers you, no questions asked.
Benson Henderson, a former UFC champion himself, lives by that credo himself. He has never turned down a potential matchup given by the UFC. But in the case of Jon Jones, Henderson thinks the light heavyweight champion has earned some leeway.
"I would say he deserves his right to fight who he wants next," Henderson said at UFC Fight Night media day Thursday at EXPO New Mexico.
I would say he deserves his right to fight who he wants next.
-Benson Henderson on Jon Jones
Jones has been in the headlines this week, because UFC president Dana White said Jones wants a fight with Daniel Cormier rather than defacto No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson. The UFC not only wants Jones to fight Gustafsson, it already has a date and location set up — Aug. 30 in Las Vegas. The two parties were set to meet Thursday to talk things over.
Jones hasn’t said anything publicly about it aside from an Instagram video he quickly pulled down Tuesday. Basically, he feels like he has already beaten Gustafsson and that’s accurate. Jones won a unanimous decision over Gustafsson last September. Many feel, though, that Gustafsson should have won on points and it’s the UFC’s belief that Gustafsson has earned a rematch because of that close fight and a knockout win over Jimi Manuwa in March.
Henderson, who shares a manager with Jones (Malki Kawa), finds the whole debate interesting. He said that in other sports and even in the U.S. government, there is a precedent for certain things. In the UFC, there is no set precedent for what a fighter has to do — take the opponent the UFC gives or choose one of his liking — because the organization is still fairly young.
"No one knows how it’s supposed to play out, because there’s no precedence," said Henderson, who meets Rustam Khabilov in the UFC Fight Night main event Saturday here at Tingley Coliseum (FOX Sports 1, 10 p.m.).
It’s also worth nothing that Cormier is one of the top light heavyweights in the world and an undefeated former Olympic wrestler. He’s no slouch and arguably just as difficult an opponent as Gustafsson. Henderson takes umbrage with the people who say Jones is a coward or ducking Gustafsson.
"Jon Jones catches a lot of flack and all that stuff, but those people are idiots," Henderson said. "You’re entitled to your opinion, but you can have consequences about your opinion as well."
Henderson, the former UFC lightweight champion, has never picked his opponent. He’s more than happy to take whoever he is given. But he takes no issue with Jones doing it.
"I don’t have a problem with that at all," Henderson said. "I think that more than makes sense to me, personally."