How Benson Henderson prepared for a fight and a wedding at the same time

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
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How Benson Henderson prepared for a fight and a wedding at the same time

Benson Henderson was preparing for his wedding when his telephone rang. It was late November and his union with Maria Magana was about six weeks away.

The former UFC lightweight champion was offered a bout against Josh Thomson that would be the main event of a card from the United Center in Chicago on Fox.

It was hard to say no, except for those wedding plans.

Not only were Henderson and Magana planning to marry, they were carrying a big secret.

Most of their friends and family believed they'd be married in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Jan. 3. But Henderson had come up with the idea that they ought to be married at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1.

And so, the couple had to go through the motions of pretending that they were planning on the Jan. 3 affair while setting up the secret Jan. 1 union.

But Henderson couldn't say no to a bout on Fox. He'd previously headlined Fox shows against Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez and knew it would be good for his career.

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"It's a great opportunity to be the main event on big Fox," Henderson said. "That shows a lot of trust and faith in me, not only from the UFC top brass, but also from the top executives at Fox. For the Fox top brass to trust me to be in a main event again, that meant a lot. So when they called and asked me, I was like, 'Oh sure, no problem. I'm a company man. But by the way, I'm getting married three weeks before then, but yes, no problem, I'll do it.' "

Henderson, who lost his belt his last time out when he submitted to an Anthony Pettis arm bar in August, knew a fight with Thomson would be a significant test.

A former Strikeforce champion, Thomson "is one of the most underrated guys, maybe the most underrated guys," in the sport, Henderson said. "He's an extremely good fighter," Henderson said. "Extremely good."

But Henderson, who proposed to Magana in the cage after he defeated Melendez on Fox on April 20 in San Jose, Calif., felt he could do the wedding and prepare for the fight without creating problems for either.

Henderson, who was married by his coach, John Crouch, said he's always been able to juggle tasks and keep his professional life apart from his private life.

"I've done a good job of keeping those things separate, I think," he said. "Work is work and home is home. But you also have to keep your priorities straight. How many fights am I going to have in my career? I have 20-something now (he's 19-3) and I'm going to have a lot more fights. But how many times am I going to be married? Once. So you have to keep your priorities straight.

"You have to deal with first things first. I was able to keep the wedding planning, the ceremony planning, the reception planning all going along and concentrate on those and not just concentrate on them but enjoy them. I enjoyed going on taste testings and finding out what colors we liked and wanted and all of that stuff. So I devoted part of my day to doing that and part of my day to concentrating on the 25th and Josh Thomson."

Planning to be the first couple married in 2014 added a little work to it. Henderson and his fiancée wanted it to be a secret until the absolute last moment.

Magana's twin sister did not know of the plans to marry on Jan. 1. Nor did Henderson's father or either or their parents.

Only Crouch, who was performing the ceremony, and Henderson's groomsmen, who had to travel from out of town, were aware of the secret plans.

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On New Year's Eve, the group headed out. Most of them thought they were attending a rehearsal dinner and then a New Year's Eve party.

It was so secretive that Magana's father didn't find out the wedding was on until five minutes before the ceremony.

"We did it at the absolute stroke of midnight, 12:00:00," he said. "We pulled it off."

And he intends to pull off a victory over Thomson on Saturday. Henderson's committed to regaining the lightweight title and knows he needs to start that journey with an impressive win over Thomson.

Thomson has talked publicly about how he's had a poor camp, but Henderson isn't buying it. Thomson is coming off an impressive destruction of Diaz, and that's not particularly easy to do.

Henderson dominated Diaz, as well, but he couldn't finish him the way that Thomson did. So Henderson knows he needs to be at his best and insists he will be despite spending so much time over the last few weeks of his camp on his wedding.

"People who aren't in the limelight and aren't in pro sports get married and they have to plan and they still have to go to work and they manage to be able to do it, so why shouldn't I be able to?" he said. "Just because I was working on my wedding in my free time doesn't mean I wasn't 1,000 percent committed to being ready for Josh.

"This is a huge fight for me with big implications and you know me. I'm not the kind of a guy who will take any fight lightly, let alone a fight like that. I did my thing to be ready."