Not often do top-ranked MMA fighters test the free agent market, but after this weekend, that’s exactly what Benson Henderson is expected to do.
Henderson, the former UFC Lightweight Champion universally regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, takes on Jorge Masvidal in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 79 card. According to Dave Meltzer, this is the last fight on Henderson’s current eight-fight UFC contract, and the fighter is expected to put himself on the open market and see what kind of offers come his way via free agency. It’s expected that he will be getting some big-money offers when he does so.
Henderson won the UFC title and overall has gone 10-3 in the Octagon while fighting the very best fighters in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. He’s defeated Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida, Brandon Thatch, Josh Thomson, and Nate Diaz, to name just a few, and his only losses in the Octagon are to championship-level fighters in Anthony Pettis, Rafael dos Anjos, and Donald Cerrone. Clearly, Henderson is one of the top talents at both 155 lbs and 170 lbs, and with four “Fight of the Night” bonuses in the Octagon, one of the most exciting. That’s why he’s expected to get some huge offers on the free-agent market.
Gilbert Melendez – a fighter fairly comparable to Henderson – went to free agency and signed an offer sheet with Bellator MMA. It was a huge offer, but the UFC decided to match it and keep him in the promotion. However, considering how poorly Melendez has performed since signing that deal – not to mention his positive drug test and subsequent suspension – that may give the UFC pause in matching an offer to Henderson by Bellator, which makes sense as Henderson’s next destination, given Scott Coker’s desire to bring exciting ex-UFC fighters into the promotion, especially in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
In addition to Bellator, ONE FC will likely give Henderson and his agent a phone call when he becomes a free agent, and World Series of Fighting might as well. Basically, all the top MMA promotions in the world will be interested in a guy with Henderson’s talents and pedigree, and he will likely break the bank as a free agent, and rightfully so.
Phil Davis, whose deal with Bellator the UFC declined to match. Depending on how much money Bellator offers Henderson – because you know they are going to do it – the UFC may decide to keep Henderson in the fold or allow him to leave. We likely won’t find out the terms of the deal he signs, regardless, but I expect Henderson to get six figures a fight wherever he goes, and as one of the top fighters in the sport, it will be well deserved.
But before Henderson hits the market, he has to have an impressive performance over Masvidal this weekend at UFC Fight Night 79. Henderson was originally scheduled to fight Thiago Alves, but due to injuries, the card was reshuffled, and Masvidal is now his opponent. On paper, this is a terrific matchup, but not an easy one. Masvidal always makes things tough, but if Henderson is on his A-game, he should be able to at least take a decision, although of course a big finish would surely help his free-agent prospects in a big way.
For years fighters did not test the free agent market, but in recent years we have seen fighters exercise their right to test the market. With restricted and not unrestricted free agency, the system is clearly not perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and for the sake of the fighters, hopefully they get the money they deserve when they hit the market. And when a stud fighter in his prime like Henderson hits the market, you can’t help but root for him to break the bank and get every penny he deserves.
UFC Fight Night 79: Henderson vs. Masvidal (formerly UFC Fight Night 79: Henderson vs. Alves) takes place on November 28, 2015 at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul, South Korea.