UFC

Henderson almost missed MMA career

Benson Henderson nearly became a cop instead of a fighter
Benson Henderson nearly became a cop instead of a fighter.
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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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SAN JOSE, Calif.

Benson Henderson was one dare removed from wearing a shiny and metallic object on his chest rather than around his waist.

Henderson had cleared background checks and was invited to the respective police academies in Omaha and Denver when one of his Dana College buddies questioned whether he had the edge required to be a mixed martial artist.

“Guys were sitting around wrestling practice and the guys were talking about who was tough,” Henderson told FOXSports.com ahead of defending his lightweight title at Saturday’s UFC on FOX 7 at HP Pavilion. “They were saying, ‘Chris could do it. Anthony is tough.’ They kept mentioning other guys on the team and then they got to me. They said I couldn’t do it.”

Henderson — a coach at the time at Dana’s wrestling program after he helped turn the school into an NAIA power on the mat — proved them wrong hours after that 2006 conversation, beating Corey Clinebell in a fight in downtown Omaha.

That was the same night that Henderson put his law enforcement career on hold.

“I got my hand raised and said to myself, ‘This is kind of cool,” quipped Henderson. “I had a new goal. I wanted to be professional fighter.”

Henderson, 29, earned his first title — the WEC interim lightweight championship — three years later. Last year, he overtook Frankie Edgar to claim the UFC lightweight title — a belt he will look to defend a third time against Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez at UFC on FOX.

Melendez enters holding the final Strikeforce lightweight belt before the organization was absorbed by the UFC.

“A fight is a fight,” Henderson said. “I don’t care. I’m going to beat him up.”

And Henderson will likely attempt to do so with a toothpick in his mouth. Henderson has become known to fight with one, something UFC president Dana White doesn’t think too highly of for safety reasons.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Henderson, who smiled as he chomped on a toothpick on Thursday.

A victory against Melendez could set up a bout with Jose Aldo, the UFC featherweight champ. Aldo would first need to get through Anthony Pettis in August.

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“You call (for) it,” Henderson said. “You want it. You talk crap. OK, you get it for whatever reason. It’s how our organization works. Cool. Whatever. I’m not going to complain. I’ll go with the flow. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me.”

For Henderson, the next fight is just a step in a long process.

“I want to be the best fighter on the planet,” Henderson said. “I want to be the best fighter ever. I know it’s crazy to say that you want to be the best fighter ever. You can go about it many different ways. BJ Penn was the best fighter on the planet, but he didn’t have a super long winning streak. He wasn’t undefeated 11 fights in a row like Anderson Silva. Silva has defended his title 10 fights in a row.”

That means Henderson could be three years away from that record streak, if Anderson doesn’t continue to extend it at middleweight in the meantime. And Henderson said he won’t be dodging any opponents the UFC puts in front of him.

“I’m in the gym year-round,” Henderson said. “Even when I’m not in training camp, I’m in the gym three times a day. I’m ready to fight somebody on short notice. It only takes me four weeks to get into shape, unless the UFC wants me to fight somebody at 205 (pounds) or something.”

He did well for himself on short notice that first fight, one he took only hours before the event. The career-altering decision has worked out so far for Henderson, even if he doesn’t carry a badge — a goal he first set for himself as a child growing up in Tacoma.

“I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to work in Denver or Omaha,” Henderson said. “It ended up that I didn’t have to make that decision.”

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