Newly crowned WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson is just starting his MMA career. But sure doesn't fight like an amateur.
He combines speed, strength and intestinal fortitude with a solid wrestling background, and continues to hone boxing and jiu-jitsu skills. Bleacher Report had the chance to speak with the champ on everything, from his title to his future.
Bleacher Report: How are you feeling now that you have had some time to let it all soak in?
Ben Henderson: I am feeling good, unlike my last fight with [Donald] Cerrone, I didn't take too much damage. I am feeling 100 percent, praise the Lord. I am very happy, very ecstatic, but at the same time I know I have to work that much harder. I am the guy with the bulls-eye on his back now.
B/R:Who are some of the guys in the WEC that you consider to be the biggest threat to your title?
Henderson: There's so many guys, the top four guys I have beaten along the way. You have Donald Cerrone, Shane Roller, Anthony Njokuani, who has won three knockout of the night awards in a row, and of course Jamie Varner.
These guys are going to work that much harder than the first time we fought and that means I have to outwork them once again. They are gonna bring it each and every time they fight.
B/R:How often would like to fight?
Henderson: To be honest I don't mind taking some time in between fights because I am pretty new to the sport and I can use that time to work on all areas of my game. I know I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be.
It's going to take a lot of hard work and being only 26 I have all the time in the world. Every time I step into the cage I want to be better than I was the time before.
B/R: Has the WEC given you any idea of whether you will have a rematch with Cerrone or if it'll set you up to fight Varner again with the winner getting another shot at you?
Henderson: To be honest with you, I have no idea. You'll probably find out before I do. I am not one who likes to speculate, but from what I hear, Varner and Cerrone will fight first and finish their business. The two of them have a lot of animosity towards each other and I think the WEC would like to settle that first.
A lot of fans want to see that fight happen, I know for myself, me being a fan, I want to see that fight happen as well. Those two guys went to war and they deserve an opportunity to settle their differences.
B/R: How do you feel about Varner, as a fighter and a person?
Henderson: I helped him get ready for his fight with Marcus Hicks. I thought I did a pretty good job of helping him as he looked really good in that fight. He's a good guy, he has a good heart and a good head on his shoulders. He's a world class champion who has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time.
Of course he's going to be a little cocky and arrogant, we are fighters and we all are to a certain degree. I almost feel bad for him, I have never had any problems with him, he's always been a super nice guy to me.
He's an emotional guy but then again, most fighters are, we're emotional people. We fight from our heart and from our souls; when things don't go our way we can sometimes say the wrong things.
B/R:If you had to choose between Varner and Cerrone, who would you say gave you the tougher fight?
Henderson: They are both very tough in their own way. I couldn't say that neither man isn't a tough fighter. I'm just glad I ended up winning both contests. They are both just very different.
B/R:Varner mentioned that a lot of the fighters in the WEC feel as though the organization puts way too much behind Urijah Faber and not enough toward the other guys. Do you agree?
Henderson: I don't agree with that at all. The men running the WEC are smart business people who have a certain strategy in place. Faber is the man and maybe he gets a lot of publicity but I don't think it's at the expense of the other fighters.
B/R:Can you tell me a little about the MMA Lab?
Henderson: The MMA Lab is my gym here in Glendale, Ariz. It's filled with a bunch of great guys, it's not a place that's filled with a bunch of tough guys. We're just starting out as we have been around for about three years now. We have a lot of young up and coming fighters. We want guys who are going to grow with the gym, we don't want anyone who is looking to jump from one gym to the next. We want guys who are willing to help one another.
B/R:What was it like training alongside B.J. Penn.
Henderson: I went down to Costa Mesa and helped B.J. prepare for his fight with Diego Sanchez. He had asked me if I was interested in coming down and helping him out. I was like are you serious?!! I told him I would love to and I'd stay until they had to kick me out!
He beat up on me a bit but I had such a great time. I got to work with the man I consider to be the best pound for pound fighter in the world and at the very least, the best 155-pound fighter in the UFC.
What impressed me most was how nice he was. I got to train with KennyFlorian as well before his bout with Clay Guida. They are both just class acts. Those are the type of fighters I want to be around. Both B.J. and Kenny are just great people, I am so amazed at the level of success they have had and how grounded they are. They opened their homes to me and treated me as an equal. That to me is more important than just being a good fighter.
B/R:How do you feel you would stack up against the lightweights of the UFC?
Henderson: Like I said earlier, fighters are confident guys; if you are going to compete you most likely have a lot of confidence in your ability. Confidence is something I have never lacked, I try not to come across as too confident or cocky but I believe in my abilities. I feel like I could match up well with any UFC fighter. I'd be very excited if given the chance to prove it.
B/R:Do you feel the WEC is ready for pay-per-view?
Henderson: I think that would be awesome. It would be great for the fighters. Hopefully it would allow us to get a little more recognition. The UFC is the top dog, and that's fine. A WEC pay-per-view would help put us on the map a little more.
It would give our fighters a chance to show the world that we aren't B-level fighters or guys who can't cut it in the UFC. I'd be stoked if I was lucky enough or blessed enough to be part of that card.