Just four hours before his first Mixed Martial Arts fight, an apparently oblivious Benson Henderson was eating food somewhere in Omaha, Nebraska. While stuffing their faces, he and his friends began speculating about which one of them could succeed in the UFC. They didn’t like Benson’s chances. So in the style of a gastrointestinal ninja, Benson throated the rest of his Moo Goo Gai Pan and scurried off to engage in some compulsive sanctioned combat. Against all digestive odds, he won.
That improbable story teaches us quite a bit about the young man who later made a career in the sport. For instance, he has friends, he eats food, and he’s an unpredictable lunatic who should probably consult with a gastroenterologist. But most importantly, we finally know where that whole toothpick thing came from.
All that dine and bash business aside, Benson has done a great deal of after-dinner musing over how the sport has grown during the eight years that followed his first fight.
“You’ll talk about [the UFC] soon with the Big 3, either Big 4 or replace one of the big 3,” he said.
“Pretty soon, I think you’ll see those three letters, ‘UFC’ along with NFL and NBA.”
But he’s not basing any of that on gate revenue or rumors of some network deal on the MLB network. His conclusions are experiential, drawn from his out-on-the-street connections with his own fan base.
“Of all the people that come up to me,” he said, “about 50 percent of them you would never guess that they are MMA fans.”
We will continue to speculate about the trajectory and limits of this now-mainstream sport. And perhaps the wide-ranging demographic of Benson’s fan base has more to do with Benson himself than it does with the appeal of Mixed Martial Arts. Regardless, a lot has changed since Benson set down his chop sticks and raced through the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, a napkin-caped crusader embodying the compulsive, well-fed roots of modern MMA.