Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (pictured) sent the UFC a message after beating Jorge Masvidal on Saturday. After taking a split decision win, Henderson removed his UFC gloves, dangled them in front of the cameras and placed them on the canvas.
This gesture is typically executed when a fighter retires from the sport after a bout, but Henderson’s move was signifying a potential exit of a different variety. The scrap marked the last on Henderson’s UFC contract and the 32-year-old is set, and appears very excited, to enter free agency.
“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,” Henderson stated at the UFC Fight Night 79 post-fight press conference.
The “certain way” that Henderson is referring to is that the UFC allows him to walk, most likely to Bellator MMA, their biggest rival.
From Henderson’s perspective, he’s a former UFC champion who went 11-3 in arguably the promotion’s deepest division. His mother is also Korean, so Henderson has ties to the country which the UFC can, and did this past Saturday, use to expand their global reach.
From the UFC’s perspective, they can allow Henderson to field offers and come back to them with a competitor’s contract that he finds suitable. If the UFC decides they would like to match the offer, then they could keep him. The risk there is that Henderson is an unrestricted free agent so he could simply bolt without ever giving the UFC the opportunity to retain his services.
At the same time, the UFC could call Henderson’s bluff because they are the big fish in this very small MMA pond knowing they are typically the best, and sometimes only, option in town. Furthermore, Henderson, despite his impressive record in the UFC, hasn’t been the most exciting fighter on its roster.
On the flipside, while other MMA organizations might not be able to offer the contractual money and exposure that the UFC can, it does have the crucial bargaining chip of allowing its fighters to acquire sponsorships inside the cage.
As we all know by now, the UFC and Reebok are locked in a restrictive endorsement agreement for the next six years. Given his tenure in the WEC prior to transitioning to the UFC, Henderson would pocket $20,000
in his next UFC outing from Reebok.
Depending upon who you ask, taking less upfront money from Bellator for the benefit of more lucrative endorsements was the route veteran Josh Thomson took earlier this year when he left the UFC. The UFC claims they didn’t want to keep Thomson and never offered him an extension.
Then again, Henderson didn’t help his bargaining power with this line…
“When I retire, it will be retiring in the UFC. I know that for sure,” Henderson stated. “But I’m going to test the market, yes.”
Let’s see how this plays out.