One of the endearing images of UFC 144 came in the immediate aftermath of Benson Henderson's lightweight title-winning effort over Frankie Edgar in Tokyo.
Henderson walked down a hallway in the Saitama Super Arena, sweat dripping from his long hair, his arm draped over his mother's shoulder. Song Henderson carried her son's oversized UFC belt on her tiny shoulder, frequently looking up almost worshipfully toward her son.
Then, in the wake of the most significant professional achievement of his life, Henderson went on vacation in South Korea to celebrate. And, of course, he took his Mom on the trip with him.
Henderson, who makes the first defense of his title on Saturday in Denver when he rematches with Edgar in the main event of UFC 150, can't quite understand the fuss:
What kind of man doesn't dote on his mom, he seems to say.
Henderson, though, is a different kind of athlete and a different kind of fighter. He's a socially conscious young man whose Twitter stream is filled with comments about the major issues confronting the nation, such as the debate over immigration reform and his views regarding same-sex marriage.
But Henderson stands out in what is all too frequently a me-first world, where many athletes expect special treatment because of their ability.
Henderson, 28, is a self-described "comic book nerd," who is about as easy to get along with as a warm bed on a cold night.
Since winning the title, he's been asked repeatedly about how he's handled the fame, but he is at a loss for how to answer the question.
Benson Henderson the man doesn't get too caught up in being Benson Henderson the superstar athlete.
"It's my personality and who I am," he says of his low-key style. "I'm a pretty laid back, chill kind of a guy."
Henderson is a powerfully built man who hasn't smoked a cigarette or drank a sip of alcohol in his life. He's got broad shoulders, a thick, muscular chest and an abdomen rippling with muscles. He looks like a 155-pound linebacker.
He's not perfect by any means, and to prove it, he admits that on occasion he'll indulge in a fast food meal. It's an admission that has to kill the average working man, who puts on two pounds just thinking about having a Double Double from In & Out for lunch and then adds another five after actually consuming one.
Henderson admits to having a weakness for In & Out's famous burger, which is 670 calories by itself. With a side of French fries setting him back another 395 calories, that's almost 1,100 calories in one sitting.
"Once in a while, I just got to have me a Double Double," he says, chuckling.
This is a guy who has just about the perfect work-life balance. He's extraordinarily committed to his craft and spends long hours pushing himself beyond limits most humans would believe were possible.
He's a stickler for detail who is well aware of his weaknesses in the Octagon. He drills them relentlessly in an effort to improve, to turn them into strengths.
Because he's so easily able to separate his work life from his home life, if you put him in a suit and put his glasses on him, he'd be mistaken for an accountant or an attorney far more often than he would a professional fighter.
Though he's one of the best, he'd never tell anyone who didn't know it. He gets recognized far more often in public than he once did, a testament both to the growth of the sport and to the UFC's dominance in the marketplace.
He'd just as soon, though, go into a comic book store and peruse the wares while not being noticed by a soul.
"There is a lot of attention that goes with what I do, particularly as the champion," Henderson said. "But the notoriety, the fame, all that, I don't seek it out. I wouldn't say it's a downside. It is what it is.
"I'm not the biggest attention-seeking kind of guy you're going to meet. I'm introverted and like to chill. I pretty much take everything in stride. The attention isn't a turnoff, or a negative at all, but you have to adjust. But isn't that we do in life anyway, grow and mature and adjust as we experience new things?"
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If he thinks he's famous now, though, he'll really be in for it if he accomplishes his goal and becomes the longest-reigning champion in UFC history.
He mentions boxers Joe Louis and Bernard Hopkins, both of whom had long reigns as champion that covered many fights over many years.
That, he said, is what he wants to do as a pro, to become known as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter ever.
In a sense, it contradicts the perception he creates as a guy indifferent to fame. Henderson, though, insists it all fits together nicely.
"All of us, no matter what our jobs are, should want to be the best at it that we can be," he says. "If I was a sky diver, I would want to be the best sky diver there ever was. If my job was to sweep the floor in the supermarket, I'd want to be the guy that everyone knows would do it right the first time and no one would have to come in after me and fix up my mess.
"I've always believed in setting high goals for myself. Why not shoot for the stars? If you want to be the best at what you're doing, whatever that is, you have to challenge yourself and not just accept the status quo. That's all I am saying. Fighting is my job right now and I want to be the best at my job."
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