It’s not unusual for comic book fans to wonder what life would be like as a crime-fighting vigilante. Would you be strong enough, brave enough and tough enough? Even having seen the movie “Kick Ass,” most fans are content to read about or watch superheroic exploits rather than living them. However, there is a comic book fan out there who possesses the strength and ability worthy of a superhero — one that might even give Iron Fist a run for his money. Ultimate Fighting Championship Lightweight Championship contender Benson “Smooth” Henderson is both a fighter and a comic lover. As one of UFC’s fastest-rising stars, Henderson is 15-2 for his career and 3-0 since entering the UFC in 2011 — and he’s preparing for one epic fight.
On February 25, Henderson will travel halfway around the world to the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan where he will challenge Frankie “The Answer” Edgar for the title of UFC Lightweight Champion of the World in UFC 144. Although hard at work preparing for the match, Henderson found some time to speak with CBR News about the upcoming bout, his fighting history and his passion for comics.
CBR News: Benson, how did you get the nickname “Smooth?”
Benson Henderson: That came from my coach, John Crouch. A lot of times wrestlers who transition into MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) have a hard time transitioning. It’s always herky-jerky, too aggressive, too violent. For whatever reason, when I switched over to jujitsu, I was able to do things fluid, relaxed — nice and calm. Coach John always said, “That was real smooth, Henderson. Real smooth.” Or he’d yell, “Smooth armlock, smooth armlock!” Eventually, “Smooth” just stuck.
It sounds fitting. I assume you’re busy preparing for the big lightweight title fight in Tokyo?
Right. I’m going to go to Japan and leaving with the belt.
Have you been to Tokyo before?
Just recently. I went over right around Thanksgiving for a media press tour with the UFC. That was my first time ever going to Japan.
What are you doing in your training to prepare for this bout?
Just doing the same things that we’ve always done. We think we have a pretty good formula for success. I’ve been blessed. My career has gone the right way from the very beginning. We’re sticking with our gameplan — sticking with what has worked and what has gotten us this far.
For those who haven’t seen much UFC fighting, what do you feel is the main difference in fighting styles between the lighter and the heavier weights?
We’re a bit more action-packed. Some of the lighter guys — we don’t get tired as quickly. We’re a little more athletic, I guess you could say. A little bit quicker. You get a lot more actual MMA, not just two guys who stand there and box or kick-box the whole time. Not two guys who go to the ground and jujitsu the whole time, but guys who actually do a little bit of everything. A little bit of boxing, a little bit of Wu Tai, a little bit of wrestling, a little bit of jujitsu — you get the actual full experience of mixed martial arts.
What do you feel is the most important characteristic for someone in the UFC to have for success in the ring? Is it speed, strength, or just the ability to take a hit?
I’m actually going to say belief in oneself. It’s hard to be successful in anything in life — whether you’re a fighter, a comic book editor or an artist — if you don’t believe in yourself. Belief in yourself is key. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to be fast enough — never going to be strong enough. It all just starts right there.
Speaking of comics, I understand you’re a big fan. When did you start reading comic books?
I think I started reading back in the fourth or fifth grade. They started this program at the local library and they had this huge selection of comics. I just started reading them. I was hooked from the very beginning.
Which comics were the ones that “hooked” you in the beginning?
All the X-titles — “X-Men,” “X-Force,” “X-Factor.” The X-titles just drew me in.
What are you currently reading that excites you?
I make sure to pick up “Uncanny X-Force” every month. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to collect a bunch of titles or series, but I wish I did. I like to go and buy trades when I can though. I just got the trades for “Fear Itself” and “Siege,” which were great.
Is there any particular writer or artist that you like to follow?
I’m trying to think of names right now, but I’m blanking. I always go back to the guys who did the earlier X-Men stuff when I first started reading. The art was really great and crisp, and the storylines were awesome. They still are now, too. They really just captivated me.
It sounds like you started reading around the Chris Claremont and Jim Lee era.
Yes! They just drew me in. I just loved their takes on the characters. But I also enjoyed reading what other writers and artists did with them too.
What hero would you say you relate to most and why?
That’s a good question. As far as my mild-mannered alter ego, I guess Steve Rogers or Clark Kent. I mean, the alter ego plays such a huge factor in the hero. Captain America wouldn’t be seen as who he is without Steve Rogers. Superman wouldn’t be such an iconic force if not for Clark Kent and his upbringing. I definitely connect with that.
Hypothetically, which superhero would you love to see in a UFC fight?
Because of his berserker style, I’d love to see James “Logan” Howlett in there. He would go crazy. It would be wild to see his non-stop, high-energy berserker rage in the ring.
Agreed. Can you share what your plans are after Tokyo? Or does everything kind of depend on the outcome of that fight?
It does depend on the outcome. The UFC only gives us one fight at a time, so depending on how that fight goes, you get your next fight based on that. But I definitely intend on flying back from Japan with the belt. I may take a little rest and recuperate after that, but then I plan on getting right back at it.
Benson “Smooth” Henderson faces Frankie Edgar for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 144 on February 25.