Benson Henderson woke up Feb. 26 as one of around 350. He went to bed that night as one of just seven.
When you go from being merely another name on the UFC's vast roster of fighters to becoming one of the organization's esteemed champions, as Henderson did that winter night outside Tokyo by dethroning lightweight belt holder Frankie Edgar, your life can't help but take a sudden turn.
Of course, there's another potentially hazardous turn just ahead for the 28-year-old former NAIA All-American wrestler, who reigned in the WEC's lightweight division until that fight promotion's athletes were brought over to the UFC last year. The Colorado native fights Edgar in a rematch Saturday night in the main event of UFC 150 in Denver.
Is Henderson prepared to defend the belt? The man nicknamed "Smooth" has had to squeeze training around the abundance of new commitments that come with being a UFC champion. His life of obligation was a topic of discussion when the newly minted champ spent a few precious minutes of gym time with SI.com just a couple of days before first putting his title on the line.
It's a pretty dramatic life change for me. No one used to care about what I said about anything. It didn't matter if I said something that wasn't politically correct. Now I've got to be careful of that stuff.
What gets me is when people say, "Oh, it happened overnight for him. Success came out of nowhere." What those people don't understand is that success does not come overnight -- it's not like one day you're not any good and the next day you're on top of the world. It doesn't work that way. It's a long journey to get to this level. It's a long journey to become successful, and you learn to grow with it. You grow with the small steps you take.
So there's no sudden sense of awe because there's not this huge jump from being nobody to the next thing you know, you're the champ. It's a gradual process. One fight you're on the undercard, the next fight you're on the lower end of the main card, the next fight you may be in the co-main event, then you make the main event. All of these small steps prepare you to take in -- hopefully -- the life that comes with it.
I fully believed I was going to be UFC champion when I started fighting. That was my goal. I wasn't, like, "Yeah, well, I wanna try this fighting thing." No, man, my goal was to be UFC champ. That's what I'm here for.
That's just my personality. But again, that's not to dismiss or say anything bad about any of the other guys. If Dos Santos says he wants to beat this guy up instead of the other guy, by all means. He's the champ. He's the belt holder. He can say and do whatever he wants to.