A refreshed and focused Benson Henderson returns to the UFC Octagon

Elias Cepeda
A refreshed and focused Benson Henderson returns to the UFC Octagon

Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson is known as a gym rat that absolutely hates to take a break. Heck, “Bendo” last fought just two weeks after getting married.

Somewhere between that fight, a hard-fought decision over Josh Thomson in January, Henderson finally took some time off with his new bride. “For the first time in years got to go on a vacation when my wife and we went on a honeymoon,” he tells Cagewriter.

“It’s hard for me to take time off from the gym. I might say I’m just going to do one a day or take a day off but then 45 minutes later, I’m back in the gym. But for three weeks, I just rested and ate and got fat. It was great (laughs).”

Henderson then entered his training camp for Rustan Khabilov, who he fights in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque, unusually refreshed. He may have especially needed the extra rest considering the tough five rounds he went with Thomson in a fight many thought “The Punk” won.

Perhaps because of his older age and perhaps because he’d mostly toiled in the UFC when it was less followed and in the lesser known Strikeforce, Thomson was an underdog against Henderson. He proved more than worthy of facing the former champ, however, by pushing him to the brink of defeat with excellent take downs and grappling.

Don’t count “Smooth” Henderson as one of those surprised by Thomson’s toughness and skill, however. “I wasn’t surprised at all,” he says.

“I knew it was going to be a tough, close fight. The hard-core fans know who Josh Thomson is. He had close fights with Gilbert Melendez and I had a close fight with Melendez. He beat Nate Diaz. He’s been top three or four in the division for the past ten years.

“Did I expect him to take me down? Would I have put money down on him taking me down? No. But I knew it was going to be a hard fight.”

In Khabilov, Henderson may once more be fighting who is underestimated by casual observers because he lacks name recognition. Even Henderson didn’t quite realize who he was agreeing to fight when he accepted the Russian’s challenge on Twitter.

When he told the UFC to set the fight up through Twitter, Henderson actually first thought he was agreeing to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov. “Yeah, for a brief moment,” Henderson admits.

“No disrespect intended to Khabilov but I saw a Russian name who people were avoiding in fights and I automatically thought it was Khabib.”

If fans don’t know who Henderson is fighting and what he brings to the table, the 30 year-old sure does and takes the challenge seriously. “You can’t say you’re the best in the world and pick your fights. If you say you are the best, you have to fight everybody,” he says.

We ask Henderson if there’s any frustration in fighting someone as good and not well known as Khabilov after only recently fighting for world titles against famous opponents. His answer reveals a single-mindedness that is likely a big reason why Henderson has become one of the world’s best.

“I don’t follow what you’re saying,” he begins.

“Fighters don’t think that way. Fans and media ask, ‘where does this fight put you at, etc.’ I don’t know and I don’t care. I have a fight in front of me and that motivates me. When the door closes, I’m fighting someone who is trying to fight me.”

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