Courtesy of WEC
Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 | 6:10 p.m.
DENVER — Everyone in attendance for UFC 150 at the Pepsi Center will know about Benson Henderson.
The roar of approximately 16,000 fans will overtake the inside of the arena when the UFC lightweight champion walks out to defend his belt against Frankie Edgar.
What they won’t realize is that one agonizing decision could have led the 28-year-old Henderson to working just outside of the venue on a night like Saturday. Henderson was nearly an anonymous face dedicated to protecting and serving instead of fighting and entertaining in this very city.
“My dream job growing up was to become a police officer,” Henderson explains. “I always wanted to help people. I graduated from college and applied to a couple of police departments, Omaha and Denver, because I liked Denver a lot. It turns out they liked me and accepted me right away. I got hired both places, but I wanted to try fighting.”
It was the ultimate leap of faith for a 22-year-old who had recently finished a double major in criminal justice and sociology at Dana College in Blair, Neb. Henderson earned NAIA All American honors as a wrestler in college, but had minimal fighting experience.
The reaction from his mother — Henderson proudly refers to himself as a “momma’s boy” — failed to help matters. The Denver Police Department had offered a $46,000 annual salary.
To a Korean immigrant who had worked multiple jobs to support her family for many years, Song Henderson couldn’t imagine passing the opportunity up. Henderson remembered his mother asking him how much he had made in his only professional fight at the time.
“I had made like $20, or maybe $100, but something like that,” Henderson said. “So I told her I made $100 last fight, but I’ll make a lot more eventually. She was not happy about that.”
But she’s come around now and doesn’t miss a bout. Song’s voice from cage side carries over the crowd and Benson says he can hear her distinctly during his fights.
He understood her initial reluctance with his career choice from the beginning. After all, it’s a motherly instinct to want her child to pursue their dream and establish some security.
By joining the police force, Henderson had a chance to accomplish both. He holds early recollections of being fascinated with cops.
Although Song gave birth to Benson in nearby Colorado Springs, he grew up in Tacoma, Wash., in an area he described as “the ghetto where cops weren’t looked too highly upon.”
“The funny thing I thought was, no matter what, people talked bad about cops,” he said. “But as soon as something bad happened, when their car got stolen, who was the first person they called? Police officers. They expected them to help out and take care of them to get their stolen car back, and they did. That, to me, was a pretty big thing.”
Henderson has always taken contrarian views. To this day, he says he’s never had a sip of alcohol nor touched any drugs.
Amateur wrestling kept Henderson away from any negative influences during his childhood and teenage years. He wishes every youngster could find something similar and regularly speaks at youth groups and schools.
“I love to talk to kids and be a positive influence,” Henderson said. “It’s good to hear about positive things and someone say ‘do the right things’ from someone other than their grandma or their mom.”
Henderson has given more speeches and made more appearances than ever before in the six months since beating Edgar to win the title at UFC 144. That’s the life of a new UFC champion, as the promotion aggressively markets its budding stars.
Numerous fighters in the past have complained about the workload, noting the increased obligations affect their training and overall preparation. Edgar has gone through the process before and won’t write it off as overblown.
“It depends on the individual,” Edgar said. “I don’t know how Benson is handling it. You definitely have a little more media, a little more attention on you but you’ve still got to fight.”
Henderson does report an increased public-relations workload, but expresses no qualms. He thinks the time proves worthwhile if it helps a single person.
That was his goal when he set out to become a police officer, a path that almost came to fruition.
“Making the decision was tough, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It came down to getting a good steady job, a traditional job, or taking a risk at something I had no history with. It was a pretty big chance.”