November 30, 2015

Benson Henderson and the Land of MMA Free Agency

By Raphael Garcia

Benson Henderson’s career is in an interesting spot. As he travels back to the United States from Seoul, Korea, having secured his 24th professional win in the main event of UFC Fight Night 79, Henderson find himself out of contracted fights with the UFC. What happens next is important for both big name fighters and the fans that support them, as Henderson now enters the fabled land of mixed martial arts: free agency.

At 32 years of age, Henderson is still a valuable and game fighter. He’s the type of competitor that could still be champion as a lightweight or a viable contender at welterweight. Even though his victory against Jorge Masvidal came via split decision, it was the second straight win for the former champion. His record in the Octagon is now 11-3; he’s 16-4 under Zuffa going back to his WEC days. And now everyone will have the opportunity to see just how valuable the UFC considers the Arizona native.

Bellator MMA is clearly in the game of picking up fighters that are willing to leave Zuffa. Even though that list of signees includes mostly fighters that are towards the end of their careers, that trend could quickly change. Phil Davis has proven that point. As Adam Martin pointed out in his piece about Henderson’s next steps, one wonders whether the UFC is going to match any potential offers that come Henderson’s way.

Although Henderson was ranked highly within the lightweight division and moving up the welterweight division ranks, many fans complain about his fight style and ability to win decision bouts. As trivial as that complaint really is, the UFC does place value in fighters that create “exciting” fights that fans are willing to pay to see. As Henderson has made his career out of not being that type of fighter, the UFC may not find it worthwhile to put in a bid for his continued services.

So what happens if the former champion signs with Scott Coker and the 2nd largest promotion in the sport? Should they pair him up with their current lightweight champion, Will Brooks? There is value in that bout, and it would draw immediate attention from hardcore fans and the media that follows the sport. He could even face welterweights such as Andrey Koreshkov and Douglas Lima. Any of these fights are attractive and would interest fans from the very mention of the pairings.

Since the days of Curt Flood, professional sports have had to deal with the impact of free agency. Organizations and teams can no longer hold onto athletes in an effort to force them to compete in their spaces only. The UFC is facing allegations about its monopolistic practices, and it would be interesting to see how the organization responds to Henderson – a fighter that has long been considered a “company man” – testing the free agent waters. LeBron James is an example of an athlete that has changed the way free agency works in his sport, as his penchant for shorter, big money deals allows star players of his caliber to have an immediate impact on teams. MMA is very different in its makeup, but Henderson is in a similar position to those kind of star players. Henderson jumping ship to Bellator isn’t a checkmate in any form, but it’s a first move that can lead to something bigger.

Fighters such as Roy Nelson and Chris Weidman have gambled on themselves in their last contracted UFC fights, only for things to work out in their favor, resulting in bigger deals. As often as fans complain about Benson Henderson’s style and the way he wins fights, he deserves the biggest payday available. Henderson is a prime candidate to start the shift of power from the organization to the fighters, and it is interesting to see what happens next, as his most important moves will come outside the realm of competition, and in these next few months of free agency.


UFC Fight Night 79: Henderson vs. Masvidal (formerly UFC Fight Night 79: Henderson vs. Alves) took place on November 28, 2015 at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul, South Korea.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC Fight Night 79 was.


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