The first major free agent decision of 2016 was announced today, as former WEC and UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson signed with Bellator MMA, having spent the past 20 fights and 6 years under the Zuffa banner. UFC president Dana White spoke to MMA Junkie about the big news, including some details on the contract the UFC had offered Henderson.
"The truth is we made him an offer that would have paid him substantially more - like not even in the same ballpark - than he's getting now if he were to become world champion again, but he chose their deal, which offered more up front," White said. "He's a former world champion who's ranked No. 15 now. We're looking for top-5 guys, guys that are going from 15 to 1, not the other way around."
Bendo: Sponsors 'a very big deal' in Bellator move
The UFC's deal with Reebok was an important issue that eventually led former lightweight champ Ben Henderson to sign with Bellator.
"But I'm honestly happy for Benson. I'm not angry. Who knows? This could be the last contract he ever signs. He got the right deal for him. He's a great guy, and we wish him all the best."
It's worth noting that Henderson is ranked #15 at lightweight and #13 at welterweight, although he'll be removed by the time Monday's update rolls around. Henderson only dropped to #15 at 155 lbs because he took consecutive fights at welterweight. Before and immediately after his decision loss to Donald Cerrone in January 2015, Henderson was ranked #5 at lightweight. It's common practice among the media panelists to not rank fighters in a specific weight class if they're fighting in a different one.
Henderson is one of several notable UFC fighters to have test the free agent waters. While he's made his decision, #5 bantamweight Aljamain Sterling and #3 heavyweight Alistair Overeem are both still free agents, but like Henderson, they're both managed by Malki Kawa.