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Maria Henderson: Benson’s ‘heartbreaking’ retirement ‘was a really big surprise’ — ‘He killed himself to do this’

“It’s been a surprise. Ben and I have been together since I was 18, and my whole adult life has been my husband fighting.”

Benson Henderson has officially hung up the gloves and now puts the full focus on his wife Maria’s burgeoning MMA career.

An active competitor since Nov. 2006, the “Smooth” Henderson goes down as one of the sport’s all-time greatest lightweight competitors. The 39-year-old’s accomplishments span across major organizations such as WEC, UFC, and Bellator, winning titles in the former two.

Just 1-0 in her pro career (3-0 amateur), Maria and the rest of their team at The MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona are saddened to see their family member put a bow on his run in an unexpected fashion.

“It really is heartbreaking,” Henderson told MMA Mania. “People don’t know, they don’t see all the hard work that goes in. Just one camp of Ben’s recently, he had an infection in his leg that had him at a 105 fever two weeks before his fight. Not necessarily this [last] fight, but one recently, and no one knew. He had to go to the hospital, they said if he didn’t have the fight they’d have to cut his leg open to release all the blood, but people don’t know that. So, it’s heartbreaking how much he killed himself to do to this and it to end not the way we wanted it to end.”

Bellator 292 in San Jose, California marked the last appearance for Benson as he looked to hit an MMA trifecta by winning Bellator gold in the 155-pound grand prix’s opening round. Unfortunately for Henderson, the new phenom titleholder Usman Nurmagomedov had other plans.

Henderson highlighted ahead of his final fight that he was planning to finish out his career on top by winning his way through the tournament and finishing out his contract. Instead, Nurmagomedov bested the savvy veteran via a first-round rear-naked choke submission — the first time Henderson was submitted via choke in his 42-fight career (30-12). Therefore, prompting an earlier retirement than alluded to.

“It’s been hard for everybody,” Maria said. “It was really surprising to us. I knew Ben would be done after the four-fight contract, but I don’t think any of us really expected him to retire yet because we all thought he was gonna win the tournament and he was gonna beat Usman. I think nine out of 10 times he beats Usman, it’s just this was Usman’s one time and it was a great fight for Usman. He had a really good game plan. He read Ben, doing this with the kick, and came up with his question mark kick. So, he did a great job. Hats off to Usman.

“But it’s been a surprise. Ben and I have been together since I was 18, and my whole adult life has been my husband fighting. We’ve trained together every single day. I didn’t do MMA for that long, but I did jiu-jitsu and I trained wrestling with our fight team for the last probably 10 — maybe eight — years. He always pushes himself in the room, it’s just now he’s not fighting. So, it was a really big surprise.”

The next chapter of Hendersons will revolve around Maria going forward. Primarily fighting in LFA thus far, “Mouse” makes her sophomore Bellator appearance against Mackenzie Stiller (0-0, 4-0 amateur) on March 31 at Bellator 293 in Temecula, California.

Similar to her husband, Henderson has proven rather slick on the ground, finishing her opponents by submission in three of her four overall bouts. Henderson welcomes the chaos and argues she even flourishes in it. At Bellator 293, she’ll look to take another step toward her goal of showing she’s a strawweight to keep an eye on.

“I like to see what they do, so I’ll go watch something and maybe I’ll watch it once,” Henderson said of her opponents. “All her fights have been pretty fast. She’s a judo black belt so she tosses her girls and submits them as soon as they hit the ground. That’s basically all I really know about her.

“[Her fights] are really short so there’s not much to watch, but it should be fun. She had three quick wins as an amateur and her background is grappling as well so it should be interesting. I don’t see her shying away from me in that sense. Should be a scrappy little match.”

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