“I would love to be on Bellator’s first card back,” – Henderson. “I trust Bellator. They’re smart and they’re doing things the right way.”
Bellator lightweight contender Benson Henderson’s return to a state of happiness will happen in stages. First, he will be allowed to train with teammates back in his gym. Next, he will be allowed to fight again. Then last but no means least he will be granted permission to get his hands on Michael Chandler for a second time.
Only once this process is complete will Henderson, a former world lightweight champion, be able to relax and smile and feel something like normal again.
“I don’t know when the next fight is just yet,” he said, with his uncertainty owning to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “Luckily I’m blessed that I own the gym and still in there three times a time training hard. Everything in that sense has been normal for me, if a little bit strange. It’s different not having team practice where it’s just about me. I just have my striking coach, and we’re hitting mitts, or a wrestling partner. It’s just about me and not worrying about the team. It’s more individualised. It almost feels selfish.
“I really don’t want to BS because I really don’t think I’ve learned anything new about myself. I’ve come to the realisation about how much I love the camaraderie of the guys. I love going into the gym, talking smack, hanging out with them, hanging out with their kids and having a good time. Having all individual workouts, that is something I’ve noticed.”
A return to experiencing comfort in numbers will arrive in good time, of course, and the same can be said for Henderson’s next appearance on a Bellator fight card.
“I would love to be on Bellator’s first card back,” said the man from Colorado Springs. “I trust Bellator. They’re smart and they’re going to do things the right way. They’re not going to put the athletes at risk, and no one is going to test positive for coronavirus at the show after everyone has already arrived. Whenever they have their first card, I would like to be a part of that.”
With everything still up in the air at the moment, the only certainty for Benson Henderson is this: the identity of his ideal next opponent. Should he have it his way, Henderson will renew acquaintances with Michael Chandler, the former Bellator lightweight champion who outscored him in a five-round fight back in 2016, and aim for the revenge he has been after for some time now.
Remember, the pair were originally supposed to go ahead with their rematch at Bellator & Rizin: Japan on December 29, 2019, only for Henderson to be forced to withdraw from the bout citing an injury. [Chandler fought Sidney Outlaw in a 160-pound catchweight bout instead, winning via knockout in the first round.] The pair were then matched up again for a June 6 card at Bellator 244 but that too was cancelled, this time due to the current pandemic.
“I want to get my hands of Chandler and I’ve been itching to do that,” Henderson said. “I’ve had to push it back from September and then in June, so I’m waiting, waiting, waiting. I’m ready to go.
“As far as I know it’s going to be Chandler for sure. When Mike called and told me about the cancelling of the card, the writing was on the wall – we expected it. I was still in the gym busting my butt. The good thing was I wasn’t dieting yet. You train hard, that’s easy. Dieting is the sad part. It makes me sad. I wasn’t dieting yet, so that was good. When he called, I made sure I was still getting my hands on Chandler when we do come back and they said ‘yeah
“I’m ready to go tomorrow. I’ll give you 25 minutes of non-stop action tomorrow. That’s the kind of guy I am and level of training I always do. I only need training camp to get down the weight. You can fine-tune specifics for different guys. But Chandler, I’ve already seen him once before and I know what he has and what he can bring to the table. I’m not too worried about that. I’m ready to go tomorrow. I just need three weeks to get down the weight. Four or five weeks would be better but at least three weeks. Otherwise I can give you guys 25 minutes every other weekend.
“I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to actually fight somebody. I want to get in there against Chandler and I want to beat him up. When it finally happens, I am going to be a happy man.”
Much of Henderson’s urgency stems from the fact that Phoenix, unlike other parts of the USA, isn’t, according to Henderson, adhering to a “super strict lockdown” at this current time. This means he continues to drive his car to and from the gym and that he is still able to do plenty of training, even if more often it is alone. It also means there is every chance Henderson’s sense of normality will return quicker than it will return to others in other parts of the country.
“Our governor didn’t lock down stuff straight away, it’s been a pretty loosey-goosey lockdown,” he said. “I can drive the streets and go to my gym. The first week it was pretty sparse and hardly anyone was going out, but now it seems everything is opening up.
“I think the state is opening everything up this Friday [May 22]. Everything will be back to normal, so to speak. Businesses will probably have social distance in mind and my gym will do that. We open up on Friday, but my gym won’t be opening up until Monday [May 25] to make sure we have every I dotted and every T crossed to be as safe as possible. But it hasn’t been super strict.
“There have been tags about doing testing, but we’re still deciding. We will definitely do the temperature checks on the forehead before they come into the building, and have people doing jiu-jitsu with just one partner and to come in with that one partner. You’ll then only come into contact with them.
“Same thing with the kickboxing. There will be no switching partners. We’re doing everything we can. We have to wipe down everything after each session. I’ve got little kids; I’ve got to be smart about it.
“There’s stuff you have to be aware of. Usually you go to training and you just think about that, which is the way it should be. But now there is stuff you have to think about and you have to be aware of. If you’re not aware of it or don’t think about it, the risks are life-threatening.
“Myself and my family have been blessed so far. We’ve not had any symptoms of the virus.”
Now 36, and with a wealth of MMA experience behind him, Benson Henderson remains upbeat, ambitious and has plenty of things, including a fight against Michael Chandler, to look forward to in 2020 and beyond. However, before he can properly focus on Chandler, the forward-thinking fighter known as ‘Smooth’ must make the first step to moving forward, which, with the opening of his gym imminent, he hopes to do next week.