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Ben Henderson has big plans for UFC 144 bout with Frankie Edgar and beyond

Lightweight title fight headlines Saturday’s card in Japan

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Johnny Hanson / AP

Frankie “The Answer” Edgar, left, has the UFC lightweight belt put on his waist after knocking out Gray “The Bully” Maynard in the fourth round during the UFC 136 lightweight title bout, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, in Houston.

It’s a good thing Frankie Edgar could list “mild-mannered” among his personality traits.

A fighter with a shorter fuse than the UFC lightweight champion may have become frustrated with some of the statements from challenger Ben Henderson leading up to their UFC 144 main event clash Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Asked for the greatest threat posed by Edgar (14-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) on a recent conference call, Henderson (15-2 MMA, 3-0 UFC) balked. The former WEC champion expressed little concern with Edgar’s speed, boxing and championship experience. Henderson’s greatest fear was something far less threatening.

“Against Frankie, what I’d be most worried about, is maybe losing each round by a hair,” Henderson explained. “Frankie does a great job of doing just enough — not just enough, I don’t want to say it like that — but just winning that round… So, at the end of the fight, you’re down five rounds to none. Not really too beat up or too damaged, but you lost all five rounds to Frankie Edgar.”

No, Henderson hasn’t exactly trashed Edgar before their fight. But he hasn’t showered the champion with respect or come off as humbled to have a shot at the UFC title, either.

Henderson has been quite candid in his belief that he’s a level above Edgar. In fact, Henderson believes he has the tools to become the best fighter ever.

His goals go beyond beating Edgar. Henderson has his eye on the top spot in the pound-for-pound rankings.

Click to enlarge photo

Ben Henderson celebrates after winning the WEC interim lightweight championship in this file photo.

“Not one of the best,” Henderson said. “Not top five, top three, top whatever. I want to be the best pound-for-pound fighter period. That goal is still in my sights. I’ll still always wake up thinking about that. I don’t think beating Frankie gets me anywhere near that conversation. I’d have to beat Frankie and a couple other guys.”

Edgar is the one who could realistically shoot for the vaunted pound-for-pound distinction at the moment.

He’s now held the belt in UFC’s deepest weight class for 22 months and successfully defended it twice with a draw mixed in. UFC President Dana White anointed Edgar the second-best fighter in the world following his comeback fourth-round TKO victory over Gray Maynard at UFC 136.

But, unlike Henderson, Edgar isn’t the type to look ahead. Edgar’s scope is unflinchingly adjusted to what’s straight ahead.

“I better not get comfortable,” Edgar said. “When you get comfortable, that’s when things go wrong.”

Henderson has Edgar plenty motivated. It’s not because of the talk, but because of the different challenge the 28-year old, Phoenix-based fighter presents.

Edgar, the 30-year old New Jersey native, had spent the past two years tied up with the same two opponents. He had to beat B.J. Penn twice to prove deserving of the lightweight crown. Then, a UFC 125 draw with Gray Maynard forced an immediate rematch.

Preparations turn dull when they’re structured around the same opponent for a year. A matchup with Henderson breaks Edgar out of the Penn-Maynard purgatory.

“It’s like a fresh easel to paint on,” Edgar said. “It’s definitely a concern because you didn’t face him before. You don’t know what he’s going to bring to the table. It’s definitely a little bit new.”

Henderson, however, didn’t come out of nowhere. If Edgar ever cared to look at what was on the horizon, he would undoubtedly have seen Henderson.

Henderson won three championship bouts in the WEC, and was as high as a 3-to-1 favorite to defeat Anthony Pettis and earn an automatic UFC title shot in December 2010. But Pettis stunned Henderson with a unanimous-decision victory and sent him to the back of the title queue.

Pettis stumbled before ever booking a championship bout, but Henderson reeled off three wins in a row in the UFC to receive the pairing with Edgar that he thought he was ready for a year ago.

“The world works in mysterious ways,” Henderson said. “Maybe back then, I wasn’t quite ready. I wasn’t quite up to snuff. Whatever the reason was, here I am now.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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