By FIGHT! contributor Jon Lane
Benson Henderson hasn’t had a decent haircut since the fourth grade. He’d ditch the shears out of pure indolence, blow off the barber and shave his head bald. That practice lasted until after college when Henderson decided to let it grow. Three years later the hair remains unmanaged and the same principle is applied. No brushing, blowing or styling with gel, mousse, spray or product is involved. “I just hop out of the shower, shake it and I’m good to go,” Henderson said.
On fight night Henderson will throw it in a bun or ponytail, or you’ll see it whip around, Clay Guida-style. Over the years, clumps of locks – his teammates call them “Benson Bunnies” – have been frequent victims of jiu-jitsu sessions at the Glendale, Ariz.-based MMA Lab. “It should be a lot longer,” Henderson said. “It gets pulled out so much, so this is the longest it’s going to get.”
If Henderson defeats Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Oct. 10 at WEC 43 and becomes the interim lightweight champion, his career will sprout faster than his follicles. Henderson is 9-1 (2-0 in the WEC), impressive enough even before you find out that the first eight wins came before Henderson had corrective laser surgery performed on his eyes. Now Henderson has clear sightlines of the title.
“I’m coming to get the ‘W,’ the KO the TKO, submission, whatever,” Henderson said. “And I know Donald wants that ‘W’ just as bad as I do, so it’s going to be a barnburner.”
Henderson’s relentless style dates to his days wrestling at Dana College. The fighter was a two-time NAIA collegiate all-American and captain of the 2006 National Champions. Renowned jiu-jitsu coach John Crouch is responsible for the element of grace found in Henderson’s MMA game, one time telling him “real smooth.” Subsequently Henderson’s striking skills evolved from “horrendous” to what kickboxing coach Adam Gilespy told him, “Smooth, a lot better, way smoother, a lot more crisp.”
It’s not a tough-sounding nickname but Henderson doesn’t mind being “Smooth.”
“A lot of times the media portrays fighters in a certain light, sometimes we get a bad rap, everyone thinks we’re real bad asses,” Henderson said. “Not all of us are ‘tough guys.’ We’re just normal regular dudes who just so happen to be real good at beating people up.”
He’ll have to be extra good to beat up Cerrone (10-1-0, 1 NC). The winner gets a date with Varner, which Cerrone craves, but not enough to look past his buddy or those locks.
“He wants a chance to dance with him again, and that’s understandable,” Henderson said. “But I know Donald. I don’t think he’s overlooking me at all. He’s too smart for that. His mindset for this fight is [that it’s] a very big deal.”