Benson Henderson experienced some of the best moments of his life at Dana College.
Wrestling for the Vikings was also the hardest thing he’s ever done.
That effort, though, set the foundation for a successful mixed martial arts career.
“It’s helped a ton, a ton,” he said. “College wrestling is tough. If I would not have been a college wrestler, I would not have been a UFC champ.”
Henderson, 29, will defend his world lightweight title against top contender Nate Diaz in the main event Saturday night in the UFC on Fox. The fight in Seattle will be a homecoming for Henderson, who is from Federal Way, Wash.
He wrestled at Dana from 2001 to 2006, earning All-America honors twice and helping the Vikings to a national championship his senior year.
He became a Dana coach afterward. Then the NAIA school in Blair, Neb., closed, pushing him into the octagon.
Just like a fledgling band or comedian, Henderson said, he started out doing smaller regional shows, some in Omaha. He began competing in the WEC, a sister company of the UFC that showcased the lighter weight classes, and won the WEC lightweight title.
He moved into the big time when the two groups merged.
Henderson, who now lives in Phoenix, has gone 5-0 since fighting in the MMA. He won his title in February by defeating Frankie Edgar in UFC 144 in Japan and defended that title in August with a split-decision victory in a rematch, his third fight after the merger.
He’s 17-2 for his career.
His willingness to spend as much time as needed in the gym and mental toughness have led to his success, Henderson said. He’s known for his non-stop cardio.
“I definitely expected to see myself here in one point in time,” he said. “I’m grateful my career has gone the way it has gone.”
Henderson wouldn’t say that Saturday night’s fight on Fox is his biggest, because they are all big. But UFC President Dana White, in an interview with the Associated Press, said it could be a chance for Henderson to win some respect.
“I don’t think he has had his due yet,” White said. “He’s had some tough fights, close fights where people are saying, ‘Frankie may have won this fight.’ This is the fight for him right here. Nate is mean and nasty and comes out and he finishes people by knockout, by submission.
“I think this is the fight for Ben Henderson. If Ben wins this fight decisively or wins a decision he should finally start to get the respect he is due.”
Henderson said he’ll prepare for the worst and hope for the best against the more experienced Diaz, 16-7 overall and 11-5 in the UFC. The fight is scheduled to go 25 minutes, something he’s prepared to do.
“I’ll go 100 miles an hour hard all 25 minutes,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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