New York -- Always humble and always thanking the man upstairs, Benson Henderson is hoping that the shake up he caused in the mixed martial arts (MMA) universe when he signed with Bellator MMA earlier this month goes a long way toward changing the sport as we know it.
"I think it's a beautiful sport [MMA] and hopefully guys can have a 20-year career and be able to provide for their kids, buy nice things and that sort of stuff even if they're not the Floyd Mayweather's and Manny Pacquiao's of MMA, but the mid-level guys," Henderson told MMAmania while in New York for a media stop.
"Smooth" left his post in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where he racked up an 11-3 record and a Lightweight championship, to join an organization that offered him more bucks and a Welterweight title shot against potent Russian Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 153 on April 22, 2016.
The 25-year-old striking specialist has rounded out his game, which is evidenced by a five-fight win streak, culminating in his eye-opening title win over American Top Team (ATT) Atlanta's Douglas Lima last July.
While Henderson admits that "The Spartan" has grown quite a bit since his lone professional loss to wrestling sensation Ben Askren in July 2013, he's just as confident as he was when he competed for UFC strap opposite Frankie Edgar.
"I think Andrey has a lot of good kicks. He's been working on his grappling," Henderson said, adding, "I intend on leaving the cage with my hand raised and a new belt to add to my collection."
That will undoubtedly be an explosive main event inside Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino in Uncasville, Conn., but first the MMA Lab-trained product must finish posing for photos and fulfilling promotional requirements with his new employer.
Henderson has already been welcomed with open arms by his Bellator peers, but he hasn't gotten a chance to speak with the likes of former 155-pound titleholder Michael Chandler. Indeed, He's still very much in the honeymoon phase of his transition to Bellator. And while he's enjoying this part of the process, the Taekwondo black belt is aware of the target that's on his back as he attempts to capture a third title with a major promotion.
"The pressure I place on myself is above anything else, anybody else, any organization, reporter or interview. I expect to succeed, I expect to get my hand raised and I expect to dominate. I expect to be a world champion," Henderson said emphatically. "It is there [pressure] in different scenarios. There's always a first, but you have to go out there and do your thing."
Pressure is something that Henderson typically chews up and spits out. Win or lose, the Arizona-based combatant always shows up and puts on a great performance.
Throughout his decade-long career, Henderson has left his mark in both World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and UFC. Seven "Performance of the Night" bonuses later -- and four total defenses of his 155-pound belts -- the 32-year-old is set to make a definitive impact in the Bellator ranks.
In some ways, Henderson's upcoming stint in the Viacom-owned promotion reminds him of his days competing in WEC.
"For sure, it reminds me a little bit of my WEC days, being a little bit of a smaller organization and not just the three big letters, U-F-C," Henderson explained. "I think the hardcore fans who know, and appreciate, what Bellator is will have an appreciation and dislike for what UFC does and have a strong liking to Bellator."
Although he was immensely successful during his UFC run between 2011-15, Henderson became familiar with the brand having cornered some of his teammates at events.
"We had three or four guys fight for Bellator. I actually went to a local Bellator show in Yuma [Arizona] and cornered my buddy Efrain Escudero between UFC stints," Henderson remembered. "I think they're great connecting locally with fans. In our sport, you can meet and train right along some of the biggest stars."
In the days and weeks ahead, Henderson will be back in the gym training two-to-three times a day like he always does. He'll also be heading back up the east coast to Pittsburgh, Pa., where he'll be cornering his teammate and long-time MMA veteran, Joe Riggs, for his FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" tilt with Chris Camozzi at UFC Fight Night 83.
More on that fight card here.
"Diesel" was nothing but complementary of his friend and training partner, predicting Henderson stands a great chance of dethroning Koreshkov in just over two months.
"I train with him everyday and what he lacks for in size, which is not that much, he makes up for in heart, technique and speed. The guy is just cut from a different cloth," Riggs told MMAmania during a recent interview. "The thing about Benson is he's got unbelievable everything. His heart and conditioning are second to none. I think Benson is absolutely going to win his third belt."
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