One night only: Benson Henderson says move to welterweight is not permanent
Benson Henderson is always looking for a fight.
As a matter of fact -- when Henderson was the UFC lightweight champion -- as much as he loved holding the belt and the title of best fighter in the world at 155 pounds, he knew it hindered his ability to fight as many times as possible per year. Champions don't take short-notice fights unless there are extenuating circumstances that rarely come about for the very best fighters in the world in any weight class.
While Henderson's good friend Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone gets the lion's share of attention for taking fights on short notice, the Arizona-based lightweight has been trying as hard as he can to match Cerrone in frequency by offering to take every matchup under the sun. He even agreed to take a last-minute bout at a higher weight class because, well, why not?
Henderson was watching UFC 183 last weekend, and just before the main event started matchmaker Joe Silva sent him a very interesting text message.
"It came down to the right time, right location, but like I've said anyone, any time, anywhere, it doesn't matter who it is. At 155, I could go five rounds tomorrow. Anthony Pettis or Rafael dos Anjos, doesn't matter, I will go out there and compete with anybody," Henderson told FOX Sports.
"At 170, I might need a little bit more time, but I've hit up Joe Silva and Dana White many times in the past about if somebody got hurt asking to step up and take a fight. I told Joe Silva after the last fight, like I said, anybody, any time, anywhere, let's do it. Then he texted me right before the (Nick) Diaz and Anderson Silva fight, and he said, 'How serious are you about going to 170 and taking on anybody?' And I said I'm always down for something like that. He said, 'Two weeks, February 14 in Colorado, Brandon Thatch main event, what do you think?' and I said 'Sure, sign me up.’ "
Henderson has long flirted with the idea of moving up to welterweight notwithstanding the short notice bout against Thatch, but he had thrown water on the idea just before his last bout against Cerrone in January. Henderson is a massive lightweight with legs the size of tree trunks, but he's also smart enough to know size matters and that he'll be losing part of that advantage by fighting at 170 pounds.
Though he expects to be a very similar fighter at welterweight, Henderson weighed all the options and differences he'd deal with when facing opponents who might step into the cage outweighing him by 15 or 20 pounds.
"Like everything in life, there's pros and cons to all of it," Henderson said. "I definitely don't think I'm going to be that different of a fighter at 170. Not having to cut weight, not having to starve myself to get down to 155, I definitely think it will be a positive going into the fight. As far as being at 170, of course I think I'll be giving up a little bit of strength, a little bit of size, but I don't think I'll be giving up that much strength to be honest. I've sparred with plenty of top 170-pounders at our gym, and I've held my own with those guys. I don't think I'll lose too much.
"As a pro, moving to 170, we definitely envision being a little bit faster, quicker, a little more agile, little more athletic than the 170-pounders."
Henderson fought at welterweight early in his career, but he's made his name as one of the best lightweights in the world. On Feb. 14, he will not only move up in weight, but he'll face one of the top UFC prospects at 170 pounds. Thatch is a monster for a welterweight, standing 6-foot-2 with an almost-75-inch reach. He has 11 wins -- all of them ending inside the first round.
A victory for Henderson next would be another big addition to his already impressive resume, but beating a top-rated welterweight could also add some intrigue to his future with the UFC. Back-to-back losses in recent fights as well as two defeats against current champion Anthony Pettis have pushed Henderson out of the lightweight title picture for the foreseeable future.
Beating Thatch would immediately put Henderson in the top 15 discussion in the welterweight division and give him some serious leverage toward landing another big-name matchup.
Except that probably won't happen.
Henderson is devoted to his career as a UFC lightweight, so win, lose or draw on Saturday night in Colorado, the 155-pound division will still have a contender and former champion to worry about on Sunday morning.
"We definitely know this is not a permanent move for me at 170," Henderson said. "I will be going back down to 155. It was just Joe Silva and Dana White needed a favor. They asked me, 'We need a main event for this card,' and I said 'OK, I'm your guy, I can do that.’
"We don't think of it as a permanent move. There are some other matchups at 170 that are pretty intriguing to us, so if the right matchups come along, we'd still be open to going up to 170 again. But as far as staying at 170? Probably not. I'm probably going back down to 155."