Benson Henderson has no regrets about his MMA career coming to an end.
After 17 years, the former WEC and UFC champion lightweight champion announced his retirement this past Friday following a title loss to Bellator champ Usman Nurmagomedov at Bellator 292. In the end, Henderson stayed true to his word. After re-upping with Bellator on a new four-fight contract in March 2022, the 39-year-old vowed that he’d hang up his gloves following his next loss. Now that it’s done, he’s comfortable with his decision.
“It’s about that time,” Henderson said Monday on The MMA Hour. “About that time.
“I went into the last couple of fights knowing that I was nearing the end of my career. I had much more of an appreciation for everything — for talking to the media, for doing interviews, for the walk and all that stuff. But going into the fight on Friday night, I felt pretty confident, like I was going to leave that cage with a belt around my waist.
“So I was happy, I was excited, finally it’s here, finally it’s my time to finally get that third belt. I promised my wife a third belt so I was going to get her third belt. So I was excited, I was happy, I was ready to go, I was in the zone. It just was not my night. Usman got me.”
Henderson exits MMA with his legacy secure as one of the great lightweights of his era. His three defenses of the UFC lightweight title from 2012-13 remains tied with B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar, and Khabib Nurmagomedov for the most ever in the promotion’s history. His WEC championship run includes two Fight of the Year winners for his 2009 battle against Donald Cerrone as well as his 2010 battle against Anthony Pettis, and his overall résumé at 155 pounds includes wins over the likes of Cerrone (x2), Edgar (x2), Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, Patricio Pitbull, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, Clay Guida, Jim Miller, and many more.
All in all, not bad for a self-described “skinny geek” who in his younger days could’ve never anticipated the direction his life ultimately took.
“Not at all, not even close — I pictured none of this at all,” Henderson said. “Like, I was never Billy Badass, Terry Toughnuts in school. I was never like, ‘Oh, that kid’s going to be a fighter. He’s super tough. He’s really good.’ I was never the fastest, never the strongest, never the best, never the most impressive, never the Terry Toughnuts guy walking around.
“I was just the skinny geek who was pretty good wrestling who just wouldn’t stop — and then that turned into this.”
Henderson, who co-owns The MMA Lab in Phoenix alongside his longtime coach John Crouch, admitted Monday that he was blown away by all the words of love and support he received from across the MMA world once he decided to make his decision official.
“I would say [there were] more tears reading all the text messages,” Henderson said. “I got 1,000 text messages, reading all the messages online. I do all my online stuff too much, I peruse online real quick a little bit. But man, all the messages from my buddies, from people I love, people I care about, and some strangers — not strangers but people I didn’t really expect such deep and kind words from. So yeah, it was a good amount of tears.
“And a lot of [the messages I received], just people I wouldn’t really expect to hold me in such high esteem, to have such nice things to say about me and how much I meant to them, that kind of stuff — like, oh man, it hit me deep. Thank you, thank you. I appreciate the words. I appreciate the kind words. That means a lot to me, thank you, that they would go out of their way and take two minutes to send me a message even. It means a lot.”
Looking back at his run, Henderson noted that he doesn’t have a favorite fight or favorite performance, but rather that his memories around the fights are what stay with him most.
On that note, one night in particular, around the height of his UFC championship reign, forever sticks out to him as his favorite memory from his fighting career.
“I’ll probably say Gilbert [Melendez at UFC on FOX 7], San Jose, being able to propose my wife afterward,” he said. “I am a little bit more of a private person. I don’t like being out there with everything of my personal life, so being able to share a private moment, being able to share something small and special, being able to propose to my wife, being able to share it with the world, on a big stage, a couple of million people watching — that was very special to me. That’s something I’m always going to remember until the day I die.”
Even now that his fighting days are over, Henderson still has plenty to keep him busy.
Along with keeping the team running smoothly at The MMA Lab, he has four children to take care of from the ages of 2 to 7, which is a full-time job in and of itself.
He also plans devote much of his time to helping his wife Maria Henderson achieve her MMA dreams. She is currently 1-0 as a professional fighter and is set to make her Bellator debut in a strawweight bout on March 31 against Mackenzie Stiller at Bellator 293.
“She wants to make a career out of it. She wants to be the best 115-pounder on the planet,” Henderson said. “For us, we don’t fight for fun, we don’t fight for celebrity, we don’t fight to be famous, we don’t for money. If I wanted to fight for money, I still would be fighting for Bellator. Like, there’s no way better way to prove it and say I don’t fight for money.
“I have two more fights on my Bellator contract, I make another good amount of money. I don’t fight for money. A lot of people fight for money — we fight to be the best on the planet. Once I came to the realization that, hey, I’m probably not going to fight for the belt again, then I’m good. My wife is the same way. She wants to be the best on the planet. And she’s going to get there, and I’m going to help her every step of the way.”