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Salute to a Smooth Operator

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

All but closing photo by Lucas Noonan.

Strikeforce held the first sanctioned MMA event in California at the Shark Tank on 3/10/2006, organized by Scott Coker. 17 years later Scott is back with the Lightweight Grand Prix opener in Bellator headlined by Champion Usman Nurmagomedov.

A rear leg question mark kick led to an unquestionable end of the main event as Usman submitted Benson Henderson. Benson said when he woke up, Nurmagomedov was on his back reigning down heavy shots. Usman then secured the former UFC & WEC lightweight champions back and worked for a rear naked choke to stop the fight. In doing so he closed the door not only on Henderson’s Title aspirations but his career.

Benson entered Bellator challenging for the Welterweight title vs Andrey Koreshkov. Unsuccessful in that attempt, he stopped Patricio Pitbull in his next bout. This earned him a Lightweight title shot where he was on the wrong side of a spit decision to Michael Chandler. Smooth said to himself if he lost any of the 4 fights on his most recent Bellator contract, he would call it a career. He plans to care for his four children and allow his wife to chase her MMA dreams as she debuts with Bellator on March 31st.

With a 30-12 record Benson became a champion choking out Jamie Varner to earn the WEC title in January of 2010. He would beat Frankie Edgar to win the UFC title and defended it in an immediate rematch. Though he lost both the WEC and UFC titles to Showtime Pettis he defeated former champions like Josh Thompson and Gilbert Melendez. Smooth also bested legends like Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, Jim Miller and Cowboy Cerrone.

Scott Coker praised what Benson did for the company as he paved the way for high profile free agent signings. Without Smooth champions like Ryan Bader, Gegard Mousasi, Kyoji Horiguchi and Phil Davis may not be in the fold. Major draws like Yoel Romero, and the late Anthony “Rumble” Johnson may have stayed with the UFC if not for Henderson’s decision.

Henderson said “I was never the fastest, strongest or top pick for anything. I worked my butt off to accomplish everything.” If he would do anything differently, he would stop, smell the roses and enjoy the process. Hopefully this is a philosophy he will carry forward in the next phase of his life.


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