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Benson Henderson Leaves UFC For Bellator

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  • Benson Henderson Leaves UFC For Bellator

    Sponsorships, immediate title shot drew Ben Henderson to Bellator - Mixed Martial Arts Blog- ESPN

    Benson Henderson isn't the first mixed martial artist to willingly choose Bellator MMA over the UFC -- but to date, he's probably the most significant one.

    News broke on Monday that Henderson (23-5) had signed a contract with Bellator, ending a long relationship with Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, that dated back to 2009.

    At 32, Henderson has plenty of miles left on his career. He is 4-2 in his last six fights, including back-to-back wins as a welterweight in 2015. He is also a name Bellator can use on free TV. During his career, Henderson headlined 10 UFC events, spread across multiple platforms including network television and pay-per-view.

    Whether or not Bellator's acquisition of Henderson is the start of something bigger, time will tell. The Arizona-based fighter said he was aware of the potential shockwave his departure from the UFC might cause.

    "Anybody coming off a win, let alone a winning streak, a former UFC champion, someone of my stature -- it's big," Henderson told ESPN.com. "My team and I were definitely aware of that."

    Henderson said there were multiple reasons for signing with Bellator and admitted the ability to sign in-cage sponsors played a pivotal role in his decision.

    As a Bellator athlete, Henderson is able to sign sponsors independently from the promotion. The UFC does not allow its athletes to wear sponsorships into the Octagon, due to its exclusive apparel deal with Reebok.

    In his most recent fight, a UFC Fight Pass main event on Nov. 28 in Korea, Henderson made $15,000 sponsorship money per the Reebok agreement. He anticipates making more than that per fight with Bellator.

    "I won't lie, it was a very big deal," Henderson said. "The ability to get sponsors on your own and not have to rely on the amount that Reebok dictates to you was a huge factor. I'd be straight up lying if I said it wasn't a very big part of my decision to go to Bellator.

    "I also want to be a trailblazer for the betterment of fighters. Bellator is open to a fighters union -- fighters binding together to see what's in our best interest. That's something you can't even breathe about elsewhere. I think it's a good thing for myself and other fighters to have that."

    That said, Henderson said he left the UFC on good terms. In his announcement regarding Bellator on his personal website on Monday, he made it a point to name individuals he worked with during his time with the company. In an interview with MMAJunkie.com, UFC president Dana White referred to Henderson as a "great guy" and said he signed the "right deal for him."

    "[UFC CEO] Lorenzo Fertitta called me himself. So did [UFC president] Dana White," Henderson said. "I was able to speak to them. They were both super understanding. There is no animosity there. I have no ill will towards anyone at the UFC, so I thought everything worked out well."

    In regards to his actual Bellator debut, Henderson said an announcement could be made within days. Although his last two fights have been at 170 pounds, Henderson hasn't ruled out a future move back down to 155.

    He hinted that his first appearance in the Bellator cage will likely have a belt attached to it. Andrey Koreshkov and Will Brooks are the Bellator welterweight and lightweight champions, respectively.

    "Coming over from the UFC with what I've accomplished, yes, we knew we would have a title shot in whichever weight class we decided," Henderson said. "We'll see [which weight class it is]. That part is still up for discussion, and I think it's being talked about right now between my guys and Bellator's. It's exciting for me. No more rematches, all new opponents to prove myself against."
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