Bellator 183: “Henderson vs. Pitbull” heads to SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., this Saturday night (Sept. 23, 2017), featuring a main event between Lightweight star “Smooth” Benson Henderson (24-7) against long-time Bellator veteran and knockout artist Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (17-8).
For Henderson this will be his fourth consecutive main event since signing with Bellator in 2016. Obviously, a former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion carries a certain amount of clout with him whenever he competes. However, after losing two title shots and going 1-2 in three fights, there may be some “Bendo” fans who are starting to have their doubts.
There’s no time for Henderson to think about those concerns though facing “Pitbull,” a ferocious fighter who has won three of his last four fights, including a memorable knockout of Josh “The Punk” Thomson at this same venue in February. That finish arguably knocked Thomson out of title contention and put Freire right back in the mix.
Speaking to Henderson in a recent interview for MMAmania.com brought to mind his own war with Josh Thomson in 2014, and I asked Henderson if he was surprised to see Freire finish “The Punk.”
“On any given night you never know. Some guys beat Anderson Silva. Do I think they would ever beat Anderson Silva again or come close? Absolutely not. Some guys beat Jose Aldo. Would they come close EVER nine out of 10 times? No. That one that time that they happened to beat Jose, yeah sure, okay, no problem good, good for him, on that night he was the better man.”
I’m sure Thomson won’t mind the compliments that Henderson paid him here, but the latter remark could go one of two ways and Aldo wouldn’t be pleased by either. Still, Henderson knows after Bellator 172 that a fight with the elder Freire will be a difficult task.
“I’m intent on going out there and beating the tar out of him, he’s going to go out there and try to beat the tar out of me. We’re gonna find out who the man is that night. I’m bringing my stunner shades to work afterward. I know I’m gonna be bruised up and beat up and what not, I know he’s gonna be bruised up and beat up and have a couple black eyes, so I’m intending on having an all out war because that’s all Patricky knows.”
Even though Henderson is vowing to do more damage than “Pitbull,” he’s not looking past the 11 knockouts Freire has scored — eight more than Henderson has had in his entire career.
“That’s all he does. That’s what he has, is he has those wars, he eats one to give one. So my job is to make sure that the one he eats from me is going to be a lot more powerful than the ones that I take from him.”
The word “cocky” isn’t usually attached to Henderson, so if he seems brash heading into this fight, it may just because he’s used to the expectations that come with headlining major shows.
“Having more experience in big fights, title fights, main event fights, you know. The last 20 fights or so have all been main- or co-main event fights, and having that sort of experience I think it goes a long way toward your confidence and your preparation — how you prepare. Having confidence going into a fight knowing you’ve done every repetition, you’ve done all your workouts, you didn’t skip any workouts. I do all the extra work, I do all extra sprints, I do everything I’m supposed to do to be fully a hundred (percent) prepared going into the cage. Knowing that in the back of your head leads to a lot of confidence. I have that confidence going into all of my fights.”
Few would say that Henderson doesn’t work hard, but some might say his attention is divided given he planned to leave MMA and serve in the armed forces at 33. He’s that age now, but for the time being, Henderson has those plans on hold.
“I think it’ll be timeframe-wise not the timeframe I wanted, but it is what it is. I think I will still (serve) for sure. I think in the back of my head it’s there, and I will for sure, but not everything works out at the right timing that you want. This is one of those things that’s not going to work out the right timing that I want, but it’ll work out, though.”
Indeed, Henderson has some unfinished business he wants to complete while he’s physically able to do it.
“I think I have a limited amount of time left for sure. I don’t want to fight when I’m 40, I don’t want to fight when I’m 39, I don’t want to fight when I’m 38. Luckily, I’m blessed enough to be one of those guys who don’t take that much damage. After my fights I’m always pretty healthy. I think I’ve had one black eye in my entire career, maybe one bloody nose, never had a broken bone after a fight. Never had this, never had that. I’m one of those guys who can compete and fight and then two weeks later be ready to go again. So the remaining time I have left, I want it to be as action-packed as possible.”
And by “action-packed,” Henderson definitely means “title fights.” Just because he’s already had two in Bellator doesn’t mean he’s not hunting for more.
“I think me as a competitor, me as a mixed martial artist, just my personality who I am I always want to fight to be the best. I always want to fight to be the best. I want to fight to have the belt around my waist, I want to be the top guy on the ladder. When I get to the point where I’m not fighting for belts or fighting for No. 1 ranking or fighting to be up there, that’s when I think for sure I’ll have to take a second look at myself and see if I really want to be doing this any more.”
And since Henderson is sticking around for the near to foreseeable future, he’s decided to be a little more brash in his fight predictions going forward.
“I normally just say I’m going to leave the cage with my hand raised, but I will say this for this fight, I will go one step further. I’m getting more bold and more non-PC in my interviews and whatnot … being a little more daring. Not only will I leave with my hand raised, but I’m going to leave with a stoppage somehow. I’m working my butt off. I want a stoppage. I need a stoppage. I need to have a impressive performance. I have to impress judges, matchmakers, fans. The only thing I can control is myself in that cage. I need to control what I can control.”
“Smooth” may be 33, not 17, but he’s not going do what anybody tells him to do. He intends to take full control of the main event on September 23rd.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Henderson vs. Pitbull” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.