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The end of Benson Henderson’s career is fast approaching. The former UFC lightweight champion will face ex-Bellator champion Brent Primus on the main card of Bellator 268 on Saturday at the FootPrint Center in Phoenix.
But the 15-year MMA veteran is still experiencing career firsts. On Saturday, he’ll fight on the same card as his wife, Maria, for the first time. Maria Henderson will open the show in an amateur fight, with Benson in her corner. Later, Benson will take on Primus.
“There are a lot of different experiences: First pro fight, first main card, first main event, first title fight and now, first time on the same card as my wife,” Henderson told Yahoo Sports.
Benson and Maria got engaged in the Octagon on April 20, 2013, after Benson defended his UFC lightweight title with a win over Gilbert Melendez. And they have trained together for a long time.
Fighting on the same card is different, though neither makes too much of a deal out of it. Maria says her presence on the card is a direct result of the reputation Benson has made in his outstanding career.
“We kind of knew this would happen, but it says a lot for my husband,” she said. “If I’m not Benson Henderson’s wife, I’m not on this card. I get that. We expected to be pushed ahead sooner than some other couples, but it’s great that we get to do it.”
Benson works Maria’s corner and serves as an assistant coach. He’ll be shouting instructions on fight night and he’ll give her tips during practice.
But he also recognizes it is best she hears it from a different voice.
“I think if a woman hears her husband say, ‘Do this,’ or ‘Do that,’ it’s perceived differently than if it comes from someone else,” he said. “One of our coaches will tell her the same thing I just said and she’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great idea.’ It’s the same thing, but it’s processed differently because of who is delivering the message. So I just am there to help when and how I can and to be supportive.”
Maria got into fighting as a favor of sorts to her oldest brother, who was unable to compete any longer. So she stepped in.
But she has grown to love it and looks forward to eventually turning pro as an MMA fighter.
“What attracted me to it is not why I do it now,” she said. “Originally, I did it for my oldest brother, who could not longer do it jiu-jitsu-wise. I started doing it and I heard about a tournament and I said, ‘That sounds like fun.’ I liked competing and I liked winning. After a while, we had a few female fighters join the team and they needed someone to roll around with them.
“[Coach John] Crouch asked me to help out. I liked being good. I liked being better than they were and making them sad. I liked outworking them and making them tired. I wanted to do it at that point, but it took me longer than I would have wanted to get started because I was too busy having children.”
The Hendersons have four children, and Maria can’t rave enough about Benson’s talents as a father.
As great as he was as a fighter — and this is a guy who has wins over Frankie Edgar, Donald Cerrone, Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, Patricio Freire and others — Maria says he’s an even better husband and father.
He transitioned easily to fatherhood, she said, and is an outstanding role model.
“He’s not the stereotypical guy that most people would think,” she said. “Ben is a great husband. He has no problem washing the dishes and doing the laundry. Some people think, some men think, when they watch their kids it’s babysitting their kids. No. You’re not babysitting, you’re watching your own damn kids. My husband is not like that. He actually loves his kids.
“He loves to spend time with them. He’ll take all of them out by himself no problem. He’s a really good dad and he’s a great husband.”
And he’s long been a great fighter. He’s on a two-fight losing streak, but still harbors aspirations of a title fight.
A win over Primus is a must, but he’s confident of a victory even if he has a little extra work to do on fight night cornering his wife first.
“I am going to go out and do what I need to do to get the W and make the case for myself to be fighting for the title,” he said. “It’s [different] because my wife and I are on the same card, but at the end of the day, it’s a fight and you have to go out and perform. And I am sure we will.”