Wednesday, April 21, 2010 | 9:44 p.m.
SACRAMENTO — It took him a while, but lying half-conscious in a San Antonio hospital bed hours after defeating Donald Cerrone for the WEC interim lightweight championship last October, Ben Henderson finally realized something.
He had just fought one heck of a fight.
"Not until afterwards," said Henderson, on when he realized how great the fight had been. "I was in the hospital and I kept hearing doctors and nurses come into my room where I was lying in bed with IVs in me and they kept saying, 'That was a great fight! That was the best fight I ever saw in my life!'
"A lot of people say that in general to you after a fight, but the way they were saying it after that one seemed very genuine to me. I was like, 'Oh, maybe it was something special.'"
The two lightweights get the opportunity to repeat that performance this weekend, as Henderson (11-1) looks to defend his lightweight title against Cerrone (11-2) in the WEC 48 co-main event.
A rematch of what some consider to be the best of fight of last year is an easy one to promote — which is good, considering the two opponents have nothing but nice things to say about each other.
Although they never had anything against one another before that fight in October, Henderson says their relationship has been closer than ever since going through that experience.
"You do share something with somebody after you go through that kind of fight," Henderson said. "Anytime you fight somebody and it's just you and him in the cage, you know what's up. There are no illusions, no media saying this or that, none of your boys or 'yes men.''
"We were boys before then — we both came up in Denver — but after that fight, especially, yeah, I'd say there's something there."
Cerrone even has been invited to Henderson's wedding this August and said it wasn't unusual for him to text Henderson personally during his training for this weekend's fight.
"I never really hang out with him but I send him a text every now and then to tell him I hope his training is going good," said Cerrone with a smile. "It would be like six in the morning and I'd text him, 'Hey, I'm up and training.'
"He's just a good dude. I couldn't even make something up to say bad about the guy."
While this rematch between friends has the makings of a fight that could steal the show Saturday, Henderson is hoping it's the last time he'll see a familiar face in the cage anytime in the near future.
The 26-year-old fighter has just 12 professional fights to his career but already has fought the biggest threats to the WEC title, finishing all of them with the exception of Cerrone.
So while Henderson says he has nothing but respect for both Anthony Njokuani and Shane Roller, who fight each other Saturday, potentially with a title shot on the line, Henderson says he'll be disappointed if the WEC matches him up with of them again.
"I don't want to rematch every person I fought, plain and simple," Henderson said. "Cerrone is a special case because I didn't finish him. He's the only fighter I have not finished in the WEC. I'm going to change that on Saturday.
"I want to face new people. The top 10 guys in the planet; those are the guys I want to face. If you're above me in the rankings, look out because I'm coming. I have mad respect for Njokuani and Roller, but I finished both of them. Let me get somebody else."
Because of his tendency to push a standup fight, Cerrone's jiu-jitsu has been widely overlooked up to this point in his career.
But his ground game came into play a lot in the first meeting with Henderson as he rolled from one submission attempt to the next. Henderson's ability to escape them all was one of the aspects that made the fight so memorable.
Although Cerrone credits Henderson for not tapping, he blames himself for certain moments in the fight where he knows he could have finished it had his technique been a little better.
"Just little things I didn't do. Like when he rolled onto his back, I should have kept him in that guillotine and tightened it up," Cerrone said. "On the kimura, I could have put my legs up higher and shifted my hips to make it tighter."
That said, Cerrone doesn't believe the jiu-jitsu will become a factor in the rematch as he expects Henderson to avoid his submissions altogether.
Both fighters are comfortable on their feet, and Cerrone is hoping that's where the majority of the fight will take place.
"It's going to be a completely, 100 percent different fight," Cerrone said. "I think he's going to be like, 'Eh, (expletive) that.' He won't want to put himself in that spot again to get submitted. I'm excited, man. I think it's going to be a throw-down."
Last Time Out:
Henderson: Third-round win by submission over Jamie Varner at WEC 46.
Cerrone: Third-round win by submission over Ed Ratcliff at WEC 45.
The Lines: Henderson, minus-125; Cerrone, minus -105
Henderson: On his upcoming August wedding: "It's the biggest night of my life. I'm definitely excited for it. You get big nerves going into a championship fight and defending your belt, but getting married? That's a whole other level."
Cerrone: On Varner accusing Henderson of not coming to fight after losing to him in January: "Just the comment he made about how he came to fight. Varner had Henderson in the same submission he ended up losing to earlier in the fight. It's just an idiot comment to make."