"It takes a village to raise a child...and it takes a village to train a fighter."
Those words of wisdom came from former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. It's a fact that slips past many, and far too often, the dozens of people that it takes to elevate a fighter to championship caliber get forgotten in the minds of many fans.
Henderson, who has reached some of the highest highs a fighter can reach, is quick to credit everyone around him. From training partners to UFC site coordinator Burt Watson to the UFC's internal PR team, there was nobody that he was unwilling to shout out as important parts of Team Henderson.
"I have so many guys at my gym who have gone above and beyond to help me out to get where I'm at now," he said.
The thanks didn't end with his training partners, though.
"My wife Maria Henderson...fighters' wives have to put up with a lot. We get grumpy and grouchy and hungry and thirsty. She's a rock. She's a source for inspiration."
While Henderson was quick to praise the people around him for his success, there's no denying that he has given as much help as he's gotten. Anyone who visits or trains at the MMA Lab, an ever-rising gym in Glendale, Arizona, seems to have things start and end with Henderson.
"I went there, Ben Henderson was there and his work ethic is second to none. I tried and I failed to do everything that he did. I tried training as hard as he did, my training is modeled after him," said Joe Riggs in a 2013 interview with Bleacher Report.
Riggs, one of MMA's most well-traveled personalities, has begun a career resurgence since joining the MMA Lab, racking up a 10-fight winning streak if you count his run through Spike TV's Fight Master: Bellator MMA reality series.
Surging bantamweight Alex "Bruce Leroy" Caceres frequently features Henderson on Twitter:
Caceres (@BruceLeeroyGlow) January 16, 2014
It doesn't just stop in America, though. All the way out in the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea, in the growing "Korean Zombie Gym," a picture of Henderson alongside former featherweight contender Chan Sung Jung is featured just past the entrance. Jung trained with Henderson and flatly named him his favorite fighter in the UFC when I spoke with him ahead of his title fight with Jose Aldo.
When Duane Finley eventually reached the MMA Lab on the Bleacher Report MMA Road Trip, he sat down with Henderson for coffee and pastry. They shot the breeze and talked about everything from fighting to Marvel Comics.
With friends, family and gym mates backing him, Henderson is now heading toward what is quite possibly his biggest non-title fight under the Zuffa umbrella. His opponent? Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson.
"I'm still the No. 1 contender," he said and when asked about UFC president Dana White's comments that he wasn't going to get a third crack at now-champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis. "There are many videos of Dana on YouTube saying there will never be women in the UFC. There were plenty of interviews about how Brock Lesnar will not fight in the UFC...it's my job to go out there and convince him not with words, but through actions in the Octagon."
There is truth to what he says, of course. Henderson is ranked as the top contender on the UFC's official rankings. Not only that, but he owns wins over fighters who have been previously hinted at as potential opponents for Pettis, such as Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez.
Thomson is no slouch, though. He demolished Diaz at UFC on Fox 7, while Henderson "just" took a unanimous-decision win. While "Bendo" is entering the fight as a massive favorite, that's a position that Thomson has historically thrived in.
"He's a true veteran of the sport," Henderson said. "He's gone five rounds hard. He has seen everything...he has seen so many different fighting styles and so many different tricks. He's seen it all. He'll be fully prepared."
Of course, he prefaced all that as you would expect him to: "I see the fight ending with my hand raised."
If Henderson wins in convincing fashion, it will be the first step back toward the belt. We'll see if he can pull it off this Saturday.
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