- Brett Okamoto
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Never have the angel wings tattooed prominently on Ben Henderson's back been more fitting than they were on Saturday in Broomfield, Colo.
The former champ felt like a gift from the skies.
If you've been paying any sort of attention to the sport this year, you know. Mixed martial arts has disappointed in 2015.
The fights themselves have been great -- but the news after them has not. We're living in a time when arguably the greatest fighter ever (Anderson Silva) just tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), and arguably the second-greatest fighter ever (Georges St-Pierre) is refusing to return to the cage despite being healthy, because he's convinced too many of his potential opponents are on PEDs.
Heck, after defeating Brandon Thatch in truly impressive fashion,, Henderson called out Rory MacDonald -- who just this week lost a scheduled fight against Hector Lombard because Lombard tested positive for (you guessed it) PEDs.
So it's safe to say the MMA world was in need of a pick-me-up. For a while, it didn't look good. Bellator MMA promoted a relatively weak card on Friday, headlined by a middleweight in Melvin Manhoef who should almost certainly not be subjected to blows to the head anymore.
Then the UFC got its turn the next day in Colorado, where a lackluster-looking event on paper turned out to be more or less lackluster in the cage.
That was, until the main event. As Henderson, a former lightweight champion, walked to the cage, social media expressed its concern over his well-being. Surely Thatch (11-2), who weighs 25 to 30 pounds more than Henderson between fights, was about to inflict severe bodily harm to him.
This was about to be a miscalculation by Henderson -- a wrongly placed effort to try to forget a controversial decision loss to Donald Cerrone just four weeks previously.
But then Henderson went out and served a much-needed reminder of how great MMA can be, even in the midst of a seemingly full-blown drug scandal.
The only wrong Henderson has ever been convicted of is fighting with a toothpick in his mouth (which, amazingly, he did once again on Saturday). He showed technique can still beat the odds.
Unless there is an adverse finding by the Colorado State Boxing Commission in Henderson's fight-night drug test, it was a perfect, much-needed night -- for Henderson, yeah; but just as much for the sport.
Henderson (22-5) has remained noncommittal on whether he will continue to fight at 170 pounds or drop back down to 155.
Quite frankly, it's an easy call in my mind. Henderson played the role of a smaller fighter to a T against Thatch and it was incredibly fun to watch -- but his chances of long-term success as a welterweight aren't extremely high.
For as many things Henderson had going against him (size disadvantage, short notice, fight at altitude), Thatch was equally put on the spot, switching to the first five-round scheduled fight of his career.
Henderson has said he'd like to walk around at "180 pounds or so" as a welterweight, which would still leave him at least 20 pounds shy of the bigger guys in that weight class.
Even in the midst of praising Henderson's performance and saying he'd be "cool" with him staying at welterweight on Saturday, UFC president Dana White couldn't help taking a realistic look at his potential future in that division.
"You know me, I'm not a big fan of small guys moving up to bigger weight classes," White said. "But how can you deny him after what he did tonight? He looked unbelievable tonight.
"Obviously, you start looking at other guys he matches up with and a fight against Rory -- Rory has a lot of good wrestling, too. Rory is really good at using his reach."
The discussion of Henderson's future, though, is a great one to have. If he wants to play the role of David against another Goliath, by all means, champ. By all means.
It's been nice, even if it doesn't last, to discuss weight classes and toothpicks -- instead of PEDs.
Never have the angel wings tattooed prominently on Ben Henderson's back been more fitting than they were on Saturday in Broomfield, Colo. The former champ felt like a gift from the skies.