Benson Henderson is set to fight for the second time inside the Bellator cage on Friday, Aug. 26, when he fights former featherweight champion Patricio Freire in a lightweight bout. It marks Henderson's lightweight debut in Bellator, and the winner of the fight gets a lightweight title shot against newly crowned champion Michael Chandler, a fight Henderson could already be slated for if he had waited.
Henderson was a huge name leaving the world's most prominent MMA organization in the UFC for perhaps the fastest growing and rising promotion, Bellator. It set off a debate about fighter free agency and the competitors talking to multiple MMA organizations before signing. Looking back, Henderson couldn't be happier with his decision to leave the UFC for Bellator.
"It’s been pretty good, to be honest. I’m not going to lie," Henderson told Sports Illustrated by phone. "The first fight didn’t go my way, but I’m not going to allow the fight to dictate my overall experience in Bellator. It really has been great. I’ve been to a couple of different events for them, a couple of different fights, they flew me out, took care of me. It’s been a really positive experience, actually. Definitely I would say there is no buyer’s remorse at all. For sure."
The impact of Henderson's decision won't take long to have real effects of change on the MMA scene, as fighters explore whether the pastures are greener in other organizations when looking for a new contract.
"I don’t think it will take too long, and to be honest, for every fighter it will be different depending on where you’re at in your career, Henderson said. "Depending on whether you want to take care of your family and yourself for years to come or if you just want the big name, the prestige or to be famous. Do you want to be famous, or do you want to have actual money to take care of your family down the line?
"I’d say it’s a case by case call there. Some guys fight for different reasons. What do you fight for? Do you fight for this reason or for that reason. Maybe Bellator would not be a great fit for this guy but would be for this guy. Maybe the UFC is a better call for this guy, but then Bellator is better for that guy. I don’t think you can make a blanket statement and say that this organization is great for everybody compared to this organization. Take it case by case."
The one piece of advice Henderson would give any fighter exploring a new contract is to look at the details of the contract.
"I’d say for sure though, read the fine print in the contract," he said. "Make sure after you defend your belt for however many times and then you lose, you’re not making less money than a kid who had three fights in the UFC. That’s a shame. That’s laughable. That is a shame. As a former champion, this is your payday and you made less money than some kid who had three, four fights in the UFC. But it is what it is. Just as fighters you have to be smart, you have to read the fine print in your contract and you have to do what’s best for your family."
Henderson is referring to the UFC 200 pays of former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and newcomer Sage Northcutt. Dillashaw was paid $25,000 to show and another $25,000 for winning. Northcutt, on the other hand, was paid $50,000 to show and another $50,000 to win. Northcutt, a 20-year-old fighter who hasn't been in the UFC for a full calendar year, essentially doubled the pay of a man who entered 2016 as the bantamweight champion with two successful title defenses.
Fighters have paid attention to Henderson's experiences with Bellator though, and are trying to learn more before making decisions.
"I’ve had a ton of fighters reach out to me, ask me about this, ask me about that. I just give them my honest opinion about how I’m treated at Bellator," Henderson said. "Everyone is interested in the numbers; I tell the fighters some of the numbers. You can look up most of the stuff online if you’re so inclined. This is how much I got from the UFC the last couple of fights, this is how much I got from Bellator. Look at the numbers, here it is. How are they treating me? I just give my honest opinion and let them decide, but I’ve had quite a few fighters hit me up.
"I don’t really try to sell. My job is not to sell Bellator. But I just give my honest opinion. This is how it is, this is how it’s been for me, this has been my experience so far."