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The Benson Henderson Problem

(Photo via Getty)

By Matt Saccaro

Benson “Smooth” Henderson is a talented fighter with a knack for winning the fights he loses. But on the oft-overlooked business side of MMA, Henderson is a dud.

As champion, he consistently failed to move the needle in terms of PPV buys and ratings. His rematch against Frankie Edgar at UFC 150 drew a paltry 190,000 buys—one of the worst buyrates in recent UFC history.

The UFC shipped Henderson off to FOX for his next two outings, presumably to build his name via fighting on a massive television network. Henderson headlined UFC on FOX 5 and UFC on FOX 7. They both earned modest numbers, with the former receiving an average of 3.41 million viewers (1.6 rating in the adult 18-49 demo) and the latter 3.3 million viewers (1.6 rating in the adult 18-49 demo).

The exposure on FOX didn’t correlate into an increase in star power. Henderson remained a below-average PPV draw, with his fight against Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 garnering only 270,000 buys. After losing this fight, Henderson was sent to FOX yet again where he headlined UFC on FOX 10 opposite Josh Thomson. This was Henderson’s lowest-performing FOX card. Only 2.55 million viewers on average (1.1 rating in adult 18-49 demo) tuned in to this event. The live gate for this show was abysmal too. It was the lowest ever for a UFC card in Chicago and the second lowest for a FOX card. On the money side of the fight game, Henderson is anything but “smooth.”

What do you do with a fighter like him? He wins fights, but the decisions are so controversial they’re off-putting. His victories are rarely decisive and the bulk of fans refuse to pay to see him. The rest only watch him for free, but judging by the slump in viewership even those fans are losing interest.

Henderson is a promoter’s worst nightmare. He’s a decision-prone fighter who prizes points above punishment. He fights for the almighty decision, not for submissions or knockouts. Dana White himself noted this recently. He’s an anchor on the division—a perennially victorious athlete who nobody wants to see yet is too high profile to just be buried on prelims like Jon Fitch was back in the day. What if Henderson wins his next fight? Do you give him yet another rematch against Pettis? Or do you keep pairing him off with contenders until he loses? It’s a conundrum.

Benson Henderson is a competitor, not a fighter. That’s fine so long as you draw money and entertain the masses, but Henderson has never done either in the UFC. His style isn’t conducive to converting casual FOX viewers into hardcore MMA fans—fans who purchase PPVs and subscribe to the UFC Fight Pass. Yet there he was in all his banality, presented in the main event of a FOX card for all to see…and for all to loathe, malign, and ultimately forget about.

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