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Will Benson Henderson Take a Smooth Exit from UFC?

Benson Henderson
Photo Courtesy of AP

In the grand finale of his UFC contract, Benson Henderson was frenetic, technical and plain stubborn at times in his UFC Fight Night 79 bout against Jorge Masvidal. It was a fight that encompassed everything we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the former lightweight champion.

Despite going five hard rounds with one of the most underrated fighters on the UFC roster, Henderson looked every bit as calm as he did before entering the Octagon, which is hardly surprising for a man who seems to have won more decisions than Johnnie Cochran.

Henderson was awarded a split decision win for his efforts, and no one but Masvidal and his corner-men seemed surprised by the verdict. Perhaps the only surprising incident happened after the fight, when Henderson took off his UFC gloves and left them lying in the center of the cage.

There was a certain finality in the act that made it appear as if Henderson was competing in the UFC for the last time. With his UFC contract fulfilled, Henderson, who is undoubtedly the hottest free agent in quite some time, will now receive an opportunity to find out what he’s worth in the free agent market.

This isn’t some washed up legend clinging on past his prime. Henderson is a former UFC champion and one of the best fighters in the world currently competing at lightweight or welterweight. All of the major MMA promotions around the globe will likely inquire into adding him to bolster their roster.

In an interview with MMAjunkie, Henderson admitted he was contemplating a future outside of the UFC.

“When I retire, it will be retiring in the UFC – I know that for sure. But I’m going to test the market, yes,” said Henderson. “I’m not trying to send any message of any type, but if it plays out a certain way, I want to have some pretty good memories to go out on.”

This obviously isn’t a good sign for the UFC, who still remains handcuffed to the six-year, $70 million Reebok sponsorship deal.

Henderson has never been one to bad mouth the UFC publicly for fighter pay, but plenty of other fighters in the company have gone on record and criticized the new sponsorship payout module.

Retired UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub claimed he went from making six figures in sponsorship money to $10,000. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort’s wife said her husband lost millions because of the Reebok deal. Tim Kennedy claimed he made more sponsorship money in Strikeforce in one night than every fighter on a recent UFC fight card combined.

If Henderson really is serious about taking the best available offer, it’ll be tough for him to turn down a big contract that also comes with sponsorship freedom. One has to believe Bellator, World Series of Fighting and ONE FC would be the prime suitors for his services.

There isn’t any word on whether the UFC had prior negotiations with Henderson to extend his contract before his last fight, but one has to assume that any potential offer that occurred behind closed doors wasn’t enough to persuade him to bypass free agency and agree to a new deal.

A promotion is only as good as the talent on its roster.

Given some of the recent circus headliners, it would be ludicrous to see any promotion purposely miss out on an opportunity to land a relevant star acquisition like Henderson.

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