After yesterday’s major news that former UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson had agreed a deal with Belator, both his old boss Dana White and new boss Scott Coker gave their immediate reactions to the signing.
Needless to say Bellator boss Coker was elated to be able to talk about capturing the signaturing of what he described as their “no.1 target.”
“This guy has done it all,” Coker told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour show. “He’s fought everybody. … He’s such a class act and such a great guy, too. I thought he’d be a great fit for our company.
Coker says he’s open to Henderson fighting at either lightweight or welterweight, though he believes it’s more likely that ‘Smooth’ will initially target the latter option and given his pedigree, an immediate 170lb title shot against current champion Andrey Koreshkov is not out of the question.
While revelling in the moment, Coker is already looking ahead to the potential for other major fighters to make the leap over from the sport’s biggest promotion to the Bellator ranks as they seek to take advantage of a competitive marketplace to get the best deal possible.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Coker said. “Fighters are fighting out their contacts. They want to negotiate. They really want to see what their value is. We’re going to help them to define what their value is. It’s always good for the industry to have more than one bidder.”
According to Henderson himself, the fact that Bellator allows their fighters to seek their own sponsors was a big factor in his decision to sign – seemingly a slap in the face for the UFC’s apparel deal with Reebok which prevents their fighters from doing so and has seen many on the roster suffer a significant loss in their earnings potential.
However, UFC President Dana White stated after the news broke that the deal they had offered would have far exceeded his current one, but only if he were to become a champion again.
“The truth is we made him an offer that would have paid him substantially more – like not even in the same ballpark – than he’s getting now if he were to become world champion again, but he chose their deal, which offered more up front. He’s a former world champion who’s ranked No. 15 now. We’re looking for top-5 guys, guys that are going from 15 to 1, not the other way around.”
Despite the fact that Henderson opted to leave the UFC it seems that both parties have parted on good terms, with ‘Smooth’ thanking the promotion for the opportunities they’d given him, while White insisted that he was “happy” that his former fighter had been able to find a deal that worked for him.
“I’m honestly happy for Benson. I’m not angry. Who knows? This could be the last contract he ever signs. He got the right deal for him. He’s a great guy, and we wish him all the best.”