SEATTLE — Since he came to the UFC, Benson Henderson knows nothing other than victory.
He’s won all five of his fights since stepping into the octagon under the UFC banner, including winning the lightweight championship over Frankie Edgar in UFC 144 and then defending the title last August with a split decision victory in the rematch.
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Now comes Saturday night’s UFC on Fox where Henderson is the main event, defending his title against Nate Diaz before what should be a pro-Henderson crowd. The 29-year-old has just two losses as a professional MMA fighter and grew up in the Seattle area but has never fought in his hometown.
Not only is the fight against Diaz a chance to show off in front of family and friends, but another opportunity to solidify his place among the elite UFC fighters.
“I don’t think he has had his due yet,” UFC President Dana White said. “He’s had some tough fights, close fights where people are saying, `Frankie may have won this fight.’ This is the fight for him right here. Nate is mean and nasty and comes out and he finishes people by knockout, by submission. I think this is the fight for Ben Henderson. If Ben wins this fight decisively or wins a decision he should finally start to get the respect he is due.”
The title bout highlights a card rife with interest for what lies ahead in the UFC. The undercard includes a light heavyweight fight between Brazilian Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson, with the winner being next in line to fight for the light heavyweight championship currently held by Jon Jones.
There’s also B.J. Penn’s return to fighting for the first time in 13 months facing Rory MacDonald and Mike Swick against Matt Brown, both welterweight bouts.
White considers the card — the fifth on Fox — to be the finest put together for broadcast TV and one of the strongest overall during a run of bad luck with injuries that caused fight plans to change.
“The way things have gone for us lately, you know how happy I am to be standing up here with all the guys picked to fight on this card. It’s been a while. I’m really happy about it,” White said. “Obviously, when we made this card not only do we love the card, the fans love the card, Fox loved the card, everybody loved this card and the fact that it stayed together, I’m just happy to be here.”
Henderson, who lives and trains in Glendale, graduated from Decatur High School in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way and will likely get a better reception than in his last fight in August in the rematch with Edgar. Henderson was showered with boos after the split decision in his favor was announced during UFC 150 in Denver, a fight the crowd believed Edgar had won.
It was Henderson’s fifth straight victory and when combined with his WEC fights, he has won 15 of his past 16.
“I think leading up to all my fights I try and take it in stride and stay focused on the fight. All my friends and family, they know,” Henderson said. ” … They’re all pretty understanding and give me my space and time to let me get ready to do this thing.”
Diaz is getting his title shot thanks to three straight victories, the last coming in May when he defeated Jim Miller by submission in the second round. Diaz, the younger brother of welterweight contender Nick, has not lost since April 2011 and won two of his last three fights by submission.
While Henderson-Diaz is the main event, the most heated fight could be the one on the undercard between Penn and MacDonald. There is no real reason for the two to have bad blood, but they spoke with significant disdain for one another leading up to the fight. MacDonald, a 23-year-old rising star, served as the sparring partner for Georges St. Pierre before his 2009 fight with Penn.
Penn, a two-time champion in the lightweight and welterweight divisions, will be fighting after one of the longest layoffs of his career. He went two years between UFC fights between 2004 and 2006. Now he’ll be fighting for the first time since October 2011, when he lost to Nick Diaz.
“He said he’s fighting to get his legacy back. I don’t know if it’s true or not, if that’s his motivation to fight or not,” MacDonald said. “If that is true, if you’re fighting for someone’s opinion, for a status, it’s the wrong reason to fight. But his motivation might be something else altogether. If that is his motivation I think it’s going to get him hurt.”
Rua will be trying to stop Gustafsson’s five-fight win streak, and the winner will become an anxious spectator when Jones and Chael Sonnen fight for the light heavyweight title in April. White announced Thursday that the Rua-Gustafsson winner will get the first shot at the Jones-Sonnen winner.