In the aftermath of his fight with Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night 79, the last on his contract, Benson Henderson made no secret of the fact that he was going to test the free agency market.
However, despite his suggestions, the former lightweight champion didn’t seem to have any real intention of leaving the sport’s biggest promotion. “When I retire, it will be retiring in the UFC – I know that for sure,” Henderson told MMAJunkie. “But I’m going to test the market, yes”.
It seemed that the fighter was merely interested in ascertaining his real value or was seeking leverage in negotiations.
It came as something of a shock then, when Henderson announced via his official website on Monday that he had signed a contract with Bellator MMA.
“I’d like to officially announce my move over to Bellator MMA,” wrote the 32-year-old. “I’m beyond excited for this next phase of my career, it’s a big move, like any move when switching employers or jobs after having worked somewhere for such a long time”.
Soon after the news broke, MMAJunkie caught up with UFC president Dana White to get his reaction to the departure of a promotional stalwart. During the conversation, White also revealed some of the details of the negotiation process.
“The truth is we made him an offer that would have paid him substantially more – like not even in the same ballpark – than he’s getting now if he were to become world champion again, but he chose their deal, which offered more up front,” said Dana. “He’s a former world champion who’s ranked No. 15 now. We’re looking for top-5 guys, guys that are going from 15 to 1, not the other way around”.
“But I’m honestly happy for Benson. I’m not angry. Who knows? This could be the last contract he ever signs. He got the right deal for him. He’s a great guy, and we wish him all the best”.
His opposite number at Bellator, Scott Coker, also commented on Henderson’s move when he spoke to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “This guy has done it all,” said an excited Coker. “He’s fought everybody. … He’s such a class act and such a great guy, too. I thought he’d be a great fit for our company”.
Coker went on to express a belief that Henderson would not be the last of Bellator’s big name acquisitions.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said the founder of the now defunct Strikeforce promotion.“Fighters are fighting out their contacts. They want to negotiate. They really want to see what their value is. We’re going to help them to define what their value is. It’s always good for the industry to have more than one bidder”.
“By the end of this year, I think we’re gonna have a really good roster on our hands and some really big fights ahead of us”.
So is this simply the departure of a single top-level fighter or is it symbolic of a much greater change on the MMA landscape as a whole?