Benson Henderson, whether he believes it or not, quieted a host of skeptics earlier this month when he beat Nate Diaz by unanimous decision to defend his UFC lightweight title at UFC on FOX 5.
It was Henderson's second successful title defense and further solidified his place as the fighter to beat in UFC's toughest division. Henderson knows that as his star continues to shine brighter, the competition grows hungrier.
"There's already like 40 or 50 of the best fighters on the planet at 155 pounds aiming for that bull's-eye on my back," Henderson said. "I guess this just makes even more guys aim for it."
Henderson's last two fights -- both wins over Frankie Edgar -- both came with a bit of controversy. The first saw Henderson win the lightweight belt in a unanimous decision at UFC 144, but UFC president Dana White said after the fight he thought Edgar had won. A rematch was set for UFC 150, where Henderson topped Edgar again, but this time by split decision. Critics crowed once more about Henderson's supposedly questionable status as lightweight champion.
For his part, Henderson wasn't hearing it.
"Whatever critics or media or fans say, they're entitled to their opinions," Henderson said. "That's cool, I have no qualms with that. ... There are people who don't think Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. What are you going to say to those guys?"
Henderson said nothing to the critics, instead returning to work quickly with his head trainer, John Crouch, a first-degree black belt in Brazilian jui-jitsu, at the MMA Lab in Glendale, Ariz.
At KeyArena in Seattle on Dec. 8, Henderson let his fists do the talking, landing an early punch that Diaz later said left his vision blurry through all five rounds of the fight. There was little room to speculate about the superior fighter.
Still, Henderson and his camp have held to Henderson's humble way, accepting the victory as just their latest accomplishment without any chest thumping or I-told-you-so gloating.
"I dont necessarily think it was a statement fight," Crouch said. "I think it was just us continuing to do what we're doing, and a it was a good style matchup for us. We just want to keep winning fights. We'll prepare for the next one harder."
Henderson said he has not yet heard from the powers that be within UFC about his next opponent. He couldn't even venture a guess; that would almost certainly be a fruitless endeavor considering the number of fighters likely lobbying behind the scenes for a shot at Henderson's belt.
But whoever might challenge Henderson next, the 29-year-old insists he'll be ready. Crouch says getting motivated for another successful defense won't be a problem.
"I dont think Benson's ever going to have a problem working hard," Crouch said. "If he stops fighting tomorrow and becomes, I don't know, a librarian, he'd be the hardest-working librarian you could have."
Henderson is already back in the gym training for his next yet-to-be-determined bout. His training staff met Wednesday to determine his technical training arc over the next year. And though Crouch says Henderson is right where he's supposed to be in the career trajectory his camp envisions, there's still a long, long way to go.
"Ben has said it publicly that his goal is to beat Anderson Silva's defense record, so that's my goal too," Crouch said.
Silva, the current UFC middleweight champion, has won 16 straight fights and defended his title 10 times consecutively. As big as the bull's-eye on Henderson's back might be, he sees the one on Silva's back as definitively larger.
"Anderson Silva has quite a few more than 40 or 50 of the best fighters with their eyes on him," Henderson said. "He has little kids who are 11, 12, 13 years old dreaming of being Anderson Silva. They're dreaming about that bull's-eye on his back."
With just two successful title defenses to his name, Henderson is still quite a ways off Silva's mark. But his latest defense was more of a momentum builder than he'll admit. Or perhaps his humble nature and one-fight-at-a-time mentality prohibit him from seeing just how much he has ascended in a 3-0 year.
Still, with enough prodding and varied questioning, Henderson acknowledges that his win over Diaz might have sent the message to the rest of the lightweight division that he's the top dog -- and they better get used to it.
"As far as me being here for a while or me not going anywhere, maybe that came across," Henderson said. "I'm going to have the belt for a while, and if you want it, you better train to take it from me, not to take it from somebody else."