In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway wrote of the difference between destruction and defeat. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” the novella reads.
Defeat as a decision. Certainly, that is a good ideal.
We know, however, that some losses can be so devastating for professional fighters that they are never the same afterwards. Being destroyed in the ring or cage by an opponent in front of your loved ones and the world can decimate your bank account and deflate your sense of self-worth.
In his shocking UFC title loss to Anthony Pettis last August, Benson Henderson struggled to score takedowns, was brutally knocked around by body kicks and then submitted quickly by an arm bar. All in less than one round.
According to his coach John Crouch, however, losing didn’t slow “Bendo” down at all.
“He competed at [world submission grappling championship event] Abu Dhabi about two weeks later,” Crouch remembers.
“He was back in the gym getting ready for Abu Dhabi so it wasn’t more than three or four days that he took off before coming back to training.”
Crouch also tells Yahoo! Sports that it didn’t take any real prodding or work from the coach to get his fighter back on track, mentally, either. That’s a good thing, since he ended up filling in for the injured Pettis on relatively short notice in taking on Josh Thomson.
Henderson and Thomson headline this Saturday’s UFC on Fox 10 card in Chicago.
“Honestly it didn’t take much. We just kept doing the things we always do. That really wasn’t anything we talked about. Ben’s always been a really hard worker. This just gives us a chance to work on some new stuff. But really, there was no change at all,” Crouch details
“I don’t think his confidence was hurt in the first place. People make mistakes. Anthony’s great and he took advantage of a mistake he made but [Henderson’s] confidence didn’t suffer for it.”
Being able to jump right back into lower stakes competition was a good thing for Henderson as well, Crouch says. At the Abu Dhabi Combat Club world submission grappling championships, held every two years, competitors are not allowed to strike, but merely work for take downs and submission holds against one another.
“He always loves to compete. It’s always good for him to compete when there’s not so much on the line. It was good for him to go and have some fun. It was great. He went and had a great time, had a good experience, won a match at Abu Dhabi,” the Royce Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Crouch explains.
At the end of the day, his coach says that Henderson is a man about his work, and neither victory nor defeat can change that. “For us, every single camp is about getting a little bit better,” he says.
“This was no different. We’ve approached his career, from the very beginning that way, you know. Not too high, not too low. Just keep chipping away and working hard. This camp was just a continuation of that.”
By willing to do the work necessary to improve, Henderson takes away power from his opponents, even those who have beaten him. After all, they beat the old Henderson, not the new and improved one he unveils each time he steps into the Octagon.
“Man is not made for defeat,” Hemingway wrote.
Benson Henderson most certainly was not. Every so often he may lose, but this is a fighter who will never make the decision to be defeated.