SAN JOSE — Judging by his violent profession, one might find it curious that Benson Henderson — the UFC lightweight champion — has “love” for his opponent. But it is Valentine’s Day.
“I love his camp,” Henderson said Wednesday of No. 1 contender Gilbert Melendez, whom he’ll face on April 20 at HP Pavilion in San Jose. “I love the ‘Scrap Pack.’ I love how if you mess with one of them, you know for darn sure that you’re getting jacked up by all of them.”
In December, Henderson did just that to Melendez’s gym-mate and “Pack” member Nate Diaz — and did so in dominating fashion.
For five rounds, Henderson pummeled the Stockton native Diaz, all the while San Francisco’s Melendez was relegated to watching and rooting from the corner.
“You can always learn from your opponent in every fight they have sitting cage-side,” Henderson said. “I know he had his eyes open. I know he was paying attention. I know he spotted some holes that he’s going to try to take advantage of.”
But taking advantage of the lanky champ has been tough of late. Since last losing in 2010 to Anthony Pettis, Henderson has been unbeaten in six UFC fights. But he’s learned from that infamous “kick-off-the-cage” defeat.
“That’s not going to be my hallmark,” Henderson said. “Me having this UFC belt for a long time — hopefully — that’s going to be my hallmark.
“As competitors, we know we’re going to lose. But the best guys ... they don’t let their losses define them.”
Former UFC heavyweight champ and submission specialist Frank Mir will likewise fight on the same card against San Jose’s unbeaten Daniel Cormier. And he too knows something about defiance.
After winning the heavyweight championship in 2004 by breaking Tim Sylvia’s arm, Mir was stripped of his title after being involved in a horrific motorcycle accident that left him out of the game for two years. Drinking and prescription drug abuse dominated those two years, a period Mir and his wife call the “Dark Ages.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I wasn’t a good person during that time.”
Mir’s better now. And in leaving his Las Vegas home for the first time as a professional to train with Greg Jackson in New Mexico, he’ll try to be even better come fight night.
“If Cormier wants to come forward, I’ll slap the s*** out of him,” Mir said.
“Unless he starts training with [Fabricio] Werdum, he’s screwed,” Mir continued. “He’s not going to know what it’s like to fight me, until he walks into the Octagon with me.”