Benson Henderson wants to vie for welterweight title shot, and we love it
What’s nuttier — Benson Henderson fighting with a toothpick in his mouth in his incredible win over Brandon Hatch at UFC Fight Night, or "Smooth" calling out No. 1 welterweight contender Rory MacDonald after doing so?
We’d seen the toothpick from Henderson many times before. (Don’t believe us? Watch the end of the highlights above.) Evidently, facing the best-trained professional fighters in the world isn’t dangerous enough, and he feels the need to do so with a small, sharp choking hazard in his mouth.
However, Saturday night in Broomfield, Colo., the world got to see Henderson fight at welterweight, a full 15 pounds heavier than the lightweight title weight limit, for the first time in his long and accomplished UFC career. Stepping in to face Thatch on just two weeks’ notice, Henderson fought much more aggressively than he did in his previous fight, not even a full month ago against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone in Boston.
That aggression served him well, but the size and strength disparity between him and the young, 6-foot-2 welterweight was easy to see. Thatch landed big power shots to Henderson’s head and body and scored trip takedowns seemingly at will over three rounds. However, Henderson managed to survive those shots and adversity, and took full advantage once he got the upper hand.
In the third, Henderson stole the round with a hard-fought takedown, followed by back control and threatening with a rear naked choke. In the fourth, Henderson finished up a sharp punch combination with another double-leg takedown.
Henderson once more took Thatch’s back, and this time he finished the fight from the dominant position. Henderson insisted on the rear naked choke, pulled his much larger opponent backwards onto him, locked in the hold and forced the tap-out.
Henderson has a stack of world title wins in his résumé, but this fight, on short notice and against a much larger opponent, has to rank high on his list of accomplishments. However, in typical Henderson fashion, he insisted that every fight is the biggest.
"Every win you get … is the most important win of your career," he told Jon Anik afterward.
That said, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt acknowledged that when he accepted the fight against Thatch, he did so simply to challenge himself, and not because he was sure he would win. "Sometimes you’ve got to test yourself," he said.
"I didn’t know I was going to win this fight."
Henderson doesn’t appear to be done taking on big challenges at welterweight, either. MacDonald, the No. 1 challenger at 170 pounds, was set to face Hector Lombard at UFC 186 until Lombard was removed from the bout because of a failed steroid screening. Henderson made it known he wants to replace Lombard against MacDonald. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
What is sure is that Henderson would deserve an immediate welterweight title shot should he somehow manage to beat MacDonald. If Thatch was a huge challenge for Henderson, MacDonald likely would be a nearly impossible mountain to scale.
MacDonald isn’t as large as Thatch, but he has better wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. Additionally, his sharp but patient stand-up striking likely would pose serious problems for Henderson.
That analysis, and how smart it would be for Henderson to take on another much larger man at relatively new weight class, will be left for another day. For now, we’ll just enjoy an underappreciated former champion once again inspring us with his guts, skill and ambition. Thatch praised Henderson for having "the heart of a champ."
Can Henderson beat MacDonald? There’s no telling until they do it. We love that Henderson wants to try, though.