If one could sculpt a perfect body for a lightweight mixed martial arts fighter, it would probably look fairly close to Benson Henderson's.
The former World Extreme Cagefighting 155-pound champion exudes power and explosiveness, from his thick, broad chest to his muscular legs. He looks like a running back who can sprint past linebackers and bull through cornerbacks.
Yet Henderson is not who you think you know.
His heroes are Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Steve Rogers, the mild-mannered alter egos of Superman, Spiderman and Captain America.
That Henderson chooses to view himself as just another guy and not as the superstar is no accident. It's why he's been successful in his MMA career and why, on Saturday, many think he'll defeat Frankie Edgar to win the UFC lightweight title in the main event of UFC 144 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
He'd rather identify with Clark Kent than Superman because it keeps him from being complacent. He lost his WEC title to Anthony Pettis on Dec. 16, 2010, after Pettis landed the now-famous "Showtime Kick" in their bout in Glendale, Ariz.
It was, however, a vastly different man who fought three times in the UFC in 2011 than the one who was on the losing end of the final fight in WEC history.
Henderson defeated Mark Bocek at UFC 129, routed Jim Miller at UFC Live 5 and then topped Clay Guida at UFC on Fox 1 to earn his shot at Edgar. To those who didn't know him previously, he's definitely turned into Superman after that series of wins.
But he gets to be Superman by not being overly impressed by himself.
"I think a lot of guys get too preoccupied and overwhelmed with being a superstar," Henderson said. "They think of that iconic image of Superman. In my opinion, they need to realize that not enough respect is paid to the alter ego: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers. Those are the real guys. That's who Superman is. He's Clark Kent.
"I'm real big on being an average Joe. A lot of people, especially in today's society, want to throw too much praise at the character and not at the real person."
That, Henderson said, crosses all aspects of life, not just the fight game. The problem arises if you begin to believe that you are, indeed, the superstar and not the person, particularly in the fight game.
He pointed to entertainer Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Lady Gaga is the person on stage and is worshipped by fans around the world.
That character, though, wouldn't exist if Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta didn't put the time in and work hard to develop her talents, Henderson said.
"As professional fighters, we've been blessed with certain advantages, some gifts, that other people might not have been," Henderson said. "But the important thing to realize as you get more and more success is to remember how you got there.
"I got here a day at a time, working hard when nobody knew who I was. The fans see me what, three, four, maybe five times a year? That's only when I fight. But every day, I'm there in the gym pushing to get better. It's the alter ego, the regular Joe, who understands that you're never perfect and you're never the superstar and that there is always a way to improve, to get better. That's how I try to live."
[ Related: Henderson: I don't care about winning rounds ]
He's interested in social justice and equality and was on the verge of becoming a police officer.
He graduated college with degrees in criminal justice and sociology and was offered jobs with police forces in Denver and Omaha, Neb.
Never did Henderson envision himself becoming a professional fighter.
"Not in a million years," he said, laughing.
Fighting has saved many a young person from a life on the streets, or worse. Henderson grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and wasn't necessarily a hoodlum or troubled kid, but neither was he the shining example of what a parent would want their child to be.
He was just going along to get along, seemingly without a plan or ambition.
"I was just a regular, average kid. … I was lazy and I had no aspirations,” he said. “I didn't know what I wanted to do and I wasn't planning to go to college or anything. I wasn't what you'd call an at-risk kid, but I was just one who pretty much floated along."
Once he discovered wrestling, though, things changed, dramatically. He suddenly had a purpose and something that motivated him.
The work ethic that he developed in wrestling has stayed with him.
He's known for his ability to push the pace and to overcome numerous bad situations in fights. He's rarely out of gas and frequently wears his opposition down with his relentlessness.
"He's a very talented guy, extremely talented, but the thing that stands out to me about him is that he pushes a crazy pace," Edgar said. "You have to be ready for that, because he's going to go, go, go."
Henderson wants to go, go, go because he knows he has much ground to cover until he reaches his ultimate goal.
He wants to be recognized as the greatest fighter in the world – a distinction now held by UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, or light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, depending on who you ask – and he knows there is much to do between now and then.
"I want to get to the point where, when people talk about who is the greatest fighter in the world, the answer is obvious: me," he said. "That is what motivates me, what pushes me to do what I do. The thing about it is, I know it's attainable, but I know that it's not a short-term goal where it's like, 'I win this fight and I'm there.' It's more of a thing where, fight after fight, month after month, year after year, I prove it.
"I think it's dangerous to think you're the super hero right now. I'm not Superman. I get it. Eventually, there's where I want to be, so I have to keep doing my thing to get there."
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