Five Rounds: Benson Henderson talks Conor McGregor, 'Cyborg' Justino and more

ByBrett Okamoto ESPN logo
Friday, September 30, 2016

Each week, Brett Okamoto provides his take on the hottest topics in the world of mixed martial arts. He's joined this week by Bellator lightweight Benson Henderson. A former UFC champion, Henderson (24-6) will challenge Michael Chandler on Nov. 19 for the Bellator title.

1.The UFC has allowed Conor McGregor to keep his featherweight title, even though he's unlikely to defend it in 2016. Is the UFC wrong in this situation?

Henderson: The UFC is always right, because they're just about making money. That's the bottom line for any giant corporation, and it makes sense, right? That's the world we live in. They're great businessmen. The way McGregor's win over Jose Aldo [last December] happened, being that quick, and having the respect I have for Aldo, I think he has done his fair share for the company. I can understand his frustration in all this. He has done a lot for that company -- literally fought for them. I know where he's coming from. And I know we go out of our way to do certain things. We get a phone call that says, "We need you in Mexico City in two days." You've got something you promised to do with your wife, but like most of the world, if your boss tells you to do something, you look at your wife and say, "Sorry, babe." It is what it is. I definitely understand his frustration, though.

Okamoto:No. I'm actually fine with the UFC allowing McGregor to keep the featherweight title in this situation. But that comes with an asterisk. If we're going to hold this against the UFC, we should have done it in March, when it allowed McGregor to keep the title and avenge a welterweight loss to Nate Diaz. If he was going to vacate the title, that was the time to do it. "OK, Conor. If you want your revenge fight against Diaz, that's fine. But it means you have to drop the belt. We're not holding up an entire division just because you want revenge." Now, it's a little different. There's historical significance in his next fight, and that featherweight belt is part of that. He wants to be the first ever to simultaneouslyhold belts at multiple weight classes. The UFC has already said he'll have to vacate the 145-pound belt if he wins the 155, so we're really not putting the featherweight division on hold when you think about it. This will be over in November. At this point, give McGregor the shot at history, and if he's successful, force him to vacate the 145-pound title.

2.Did McGregor jump the line at lightweight or is he deserving of a shot against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November?

Henderson: I think there are a lot of guys who are deserving of a shot before McGregor, but this is not the most fair sport. If you want to make this sport as legitimate as the NFL and the NBA, you have to maintain the sport's integrity, but the guys who are in charge of that want to sell pay-per-views. I can understand the argument behind his title shot, but I don't necessarily agree with it.

Okamoto:I've said this before -- I don't have a problem with McGregor jumping the line. You can make cases for other lightweights, of course. Khabib Nurmagomedov has a very strong case that he's the No. 1 contender. But do I think this is a total sham of a title fight? Not at all. McGregor is the No. 1 featherweight. He's coming off a win against Diaz, a ranked lightweight. He holds a knockout win over Aldo, who is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in history. It's not as if this title shot is completely unwarranted. Respectfully, this championship fight is far more legitimate than the one that will take place Oct. 8, when Dan Henderson fights Michael Bisping for the middleweight title.

3.Should heavyweight Roy Nelson be punished for kicking referee John McCarthy after his win at UFC Fight Night last weekend in Brazil?

Henderson: I meant to look it up but haven't seen the video yet. I would just say that no matter what a referee does, you can't disrespect him like that. There are times we don't agree with referees. Trust me, I've even been upset with John McCarthy in one of my previous fights. But there's nothing a referee can do that makes it OK for you to put your foot on his butt. In the NFL or NBA, you touch an official the wrong way, the repercussions are harsh. I think for this to be a legitimate sport, we have to be the same way.

Okamoto: Yes. This is pretty black and white to me. You can't shove a referee with your foot after a fight. You just can't do that. A lot of people are pointing toward an incident in 2014, when the UFC flat out released Jason High for shoving a referee after a loss. Unfortunately, you could absolutely make the argument the UFC should follow that precedent and cut Nelson. Personally, I don't think that's necessary, but once you've set a precedent on something like this, there's an expectation that you follow it. In general, a fighter who shoves a referee should be fined and probably suspended for something like six months, in my opinion. That punishment seems to fit the crime.

4.Should the UFC create a women's 145-pound division, based on the star power of Cris "Cyborg" Justino?

Henderson: I think you take a look at the number of fighters who want it. It's hard to say a division should be created for one person. If that were the case, I'd say, "Hey, make a division for me. Making 155 sucks, and the guys at 170 are too big. I'm fighting at 165 now." There's not an easy answer in Cris' situation, but me personally, I'd say she has to make 135 pounds. As rough as that is, you don't have guys in the NFL saying, "I'm too small to be a running back. Create a position for me, coach." It's hard to justify, in my humble opinion, creating stuff for one person. It opens this whole realm of, "You did this for that person, now do it for me." You've got to go with what the rules are. If that's unfair, that's just the way it is.

Okamoto:No. I believe the UFC should promote Justino as a 145-pounder, but not create a division around her. The reality is, there aren't enough women to fill that division. If there were, the UFC would have done this already. So here's what you do: Justino is the all-female promotion Invicta FC featherweight champion. Allow her to defend that title in the UFC. It might be a little confusing, but then again, is it? I think people can process this. Heck, take a page out of boxing and just call her a "UFC super champion." Make something up. Whatever. Just promote her as a killer. That's all people care about. And once you've promoted her in that way and fans are clamoring for her, that's when 140-pound catchweight super fights will come together.

5.Former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw has offered to bet his $100,000 purse against current champ Dominick Cruz in a proposed rematch. Is a challenge like this a good move or bad?

Henderson:As a fighter, you've got to do what you've got to do to get the big fights. If they're not giving it to you and you think you can get it done by talking? Then go ahead and get it by talking. I like T.J. He's a good dude. But personally, I like to do my talking in the cage. Let me do it in the cage and prove I've earned a title shot. But as we all know, there are plenty of big talkers in this sport of ours. If you can speak well, say some stuff, you can get eyeballs on you and get those big fights.

Okamoto:I love it. Why not? First off, I definitely can understand Dillashaw's frustration. He and Cruz fought in January, and that fight was too close to call. Cruz won a split decision, but there was no winner or loser in that fight. You could score it either way. So for Dillashaw to potentially see an entire year go by without a rematch, when he doesn't even feel he lost in the first place, that has to be difficult. So, this challenge -- what's not to like about it, really? You can say, "Oh, he's just doing whatever he can to get the title fight." Well, yeah. That's exactly what he's doing. And unlike lots of other trash talk, this has very real implications to it. Dillashaw just bet Cruz six figures that he can beat him up in a cage fight. Heck yes, I'm interested in that.

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