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Benson Henderson’s ‘bad habit’ nearly led to UFC disaster — ‘I swallowed my toothpick’

UFC on FOX: Henderson v Diaz Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Benson Henderson will be remembered for many different reasons as a mixed martial arts (MMA) legend.

Bellator 292 this past month (March 10, 2023) spelled the end of Henderson’s legendary 42-fight career (30-12). The former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) Lightweight champion scored some of his biggest wins against the likes of Frankie Edgar (twice), Jim Miller, Clay Guida, Gilbert Melendez, and Nate Diaz.

Against Diaz, “Smooth” let a secret slip at the end of the dominant five-round performance. In celebration, Henderson was seen popping a toothpick out of his mouth, which had become a trademark of the now-39-year-old over the years.

“For a lot of fights, I had the toothpick, yeah,” Henderson told The MMA Hour. “For a lot of fights. It was just a bad habit. I would literally, like, go out to lunch or dinner or breakfast, whatever — you know, you have the toothpicks from the restaurant. I would just forget I have it in, I would practice, I would do whatever. I’d leave it in for fights.”

Henderson managed to avoid any serious injuries to himself or his opponents from this habit, but he does recall a pretty big scare that occurred trying to surprise his mother.

“I’d graduated college, and then I went home to surprise my mom,” Henderson said. “I surprised her when she was coming down the stairs, and I had a toothpick in like I always do, and I was a little bit older. I was mature enough to realize how dumb that was, how not smart that was, how crazy that was. But I scared her — and I swallowed my toothpick.

“She was coming down the stairs. I go, ‘A-ha! Boo!’ And I scare my mom, a little short 4-foot-9 Korean woman. She’s like, ‘Oh!’ And then she saw me swallow my toothpick — and then she got really scared. Like, the level of frightenedness on her face was hilarious, it was super funny. So I started laughing as I’m choking on my toothpick, I started laughing even more. Then I swallowed the dang thing. I was choking and I was laughing even more.

“I don’t think anything happened,” he continued. “I think there’s no permanent damage. I was like, ‘Am I’m okay?? Is there anything wrong with me??’ And I went in the mirror, check my mouth out. I was like, ‘Ah, I think I’m okay.’ My mom hit me, like, ‘What are you doing?! Don’t do that with a toothpick in your mouth!! Oh my God!’”

Henderson will continue to stick around the MMA scene, coaching his wife, Maria, who just returned to the Bellator cage this past weekend (Fri., March 31, 2023) at Bellator 293. Unfortunately for the Hendersons, Maria suffered a first-round armbar submission loss to Mackenzie Stiller.

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