Ben Henderson hears the question all the time, in every interview prior to his fight this weekend with Mark Bocek at UFC 129 in Toronto. He'll hear the question for years to come - even if he wins the UFC title and reigns for a decade, if he's the first MMA fighter with a Nike shoe deal, if he gets his own Coke commercial, marries a supermodel, retires and runs for the Congress. Ben Henderson could fly to the moon in a steam powered star ship and upon touchdown, I guarantee someone would ask him about the Anthony Pettis kick.
With time he will grow to hate that damn kick. If he doesn't already. He's like the MMA Frederic Weis. You remember Weis right? Played professionally in Europe for 16 years. Won an Olympic Silver Medal for France. Was drafted in the first round by the New York Knicks. Of course you don't. No one remembers any of that. To the world he's the guy Vince Carter leaped over, lending his name and likeness the text book definition of posterized. Vince Carter literally dunked right over his head. People no doubt stop Weis on the street asking 'Hey, remember the time Carter rested his nuts on your head?" Yes he remembers! Of course he does!
For now, the former WEC lightweight champion is handling the kick heard around the world with his trademark good spirits. Even though it may have cost him a chance to main event a UFC pay per view, Henderson can appreciate the move as a work of art.
"Oh yeah, it's a once in a lifetime type of move, pretty flashy and everything," Henderson told SBNation's Luke Thomas in an exclusive interview. " Looking back on it, yeah it's really amazing that anyone could get off that type of kick, let alone fifth round end of the fight, about a minute left in the fight. Under those circumstances it's even more amazing."
Like many fighters, Henderson can't really tell you what he was thinking when the kick went down. It's not just that the graceful move was immediately followed by him getting kicked in the noggin. It's more that, in his experience, fighters aren't wired to function that way in the midst of combat.
"For anybody who's actually ever been inside the cage or competed or even played football, you don't really have a whole lot of conscious thoughts, you don't think through your head 'Hey, I'm gonna step back with my right leg and keep my left hand up and I'm gonna push my butt off the cage' there's no actual real conscious thoughts that go through your head," Henderson explained. "The general idea of what was going through my head though was 'he's jumping at me' I had no idea it was gonna be what it was. Obviously, who could predict that? Who could see that coming? There's no clear conscious thought that goes through your head, for me personally, there's no conscious thought that goes through my head. It's just more of a feeling, fighting, playing football, basketball. It should be more reactionary 'guy moves this way, you move the other way automatically just as a reaction.'"
Henderson is ready to put the Pettis fight behind him. He fights again this weekend with stakes that may be even higher. He's fighting, not for a secondary title, but for acceptance, to prove his place in the sport. He's making the leap from AAA ball to the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts (excuse me as I blatantly mix sports in my hackneyed sports metaphor) and is set on showing everyone he's one of the best in the word, not just a big fish in a small pond.
"We're not proving to the other fighters that we belong, it's more to the general fan base and to the reporters and media," Henderson said. "It's more proving to you guys who are always saying "the WEC guys, there's no way they can hang with the UFC guys". The UFC guys, those are our training partners. Those are the guys we train with everyday, it's not like they don't see us when we train. I train with Kenny Florian, BJ Penn, Efrain Escodero, they're all in the UFC, so it's not like they're all like "Oh no well he's tough and all but he's in the WEC so he's not any good", I train with those guys so we have a mutual respect. So it's not really the fighters per se, who us ex-WEC are trying to prove ourselves to; it's more to the general fans who don't really know what's going on or don't really know a whole lot in depth what it means to be a fighter and the respect we have for each other. That's more who the ex-WEC fighters, that's where our chip on our shoulders is directed towards. Sure you can say that's your opinion, but now I'm gonna go in here and prove otherwise."
After the break, listen to the entire interview with Ben Henderson