ROSEMEAD, Calif. -- Had there been a style competition at Thursday’s UFC on Fox open workouts, Ben Henderson would’ve been the clear winner.
Perhaps to underscore the confidence (or maybe the irritation) he’s feeling before Saturday’s untelevised fight against Clay Guida, Henderson conducted the entirety of his 30-minute public workout inside the sprawling UFC Gym with a toothpick casually dangling out the corner of his mouth.
As he goes in search of his third win in the Octagon this weekend, the former WEC lightweight champion appears to have settled into a groove as a full-fledged UFC fighter. Though he said it was news to him that some oddsmakers see him as a 2-1 favorite over Guida, there seems to be an added swagger about Henderson this week.
Hence, maybe, the toothpick.
“I’m as confident as any fighter out there,” he says. “All fighters are pretty confident by nature, that’s just how we are. I’m just as confident as any fighter in the UFC. I think [oddsmakers] would be wise to pick me against anybody, but that’s just me being a fighter.”
Their fight is assumed to be a title eliminator, but the time constraints of the UFC’s first, hour-long broadcast on the Fox Network have relegated Henderson and Guida to the Internet undercard. If Henderson is feeling any frustrations about that, he said he would take them out inside the cage.
“Some way, somehow this fight will make it to air, even if it’s afterwards or whatever,” Henderson says. “Dana [White] will want to put this one on primetime television ... I’ll make sure of that.”
Guida’s shot overdue?
Guida’s path to potential No. 1 contender status has been long and more than a little bit roundabout.
During 15 fights in the Octagon and a five-year tenure with the UFC, he’s won "Fight of the night" honors five times, "Submission of the night" twice and "Fight of the year" twice. He’s also lost five times, most recently in back-to-back defeats to Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian in 2009. After running his current win streak to four during the last 20 months, however, he could finally earn his first shot at UFC gold if he defeats Henderson this weekend.
Can’t blame him for not wanting to let that chance slip away.
“I’m going to get my shot no matter what, man,” Guida says. “I’m going out guns slinging and I’m going to show the UFC and the rest of the world that I’m the legitimate No. 1 contender ... It’s been a long time coming -- five years -- and I’m going to put on a show.”
JDS’ philosophy: Work hard, be nice
Compared to Guida, Junior dos Santos’ rise through the ranks has been a somewhat meteoric one. At 27 years old, he says he’s only been training in MMA for about the past five years. But after breezing through his first seven fights in the UFC, he now stands on the brink of a heavyweight title shot against Cain Velasquez in what might turn out to be the most-watched UFC fight of all time.
What’s his secret?
“Hard work,” the jovial dos Santos explains. “And being nice.”
Dos Santos’ ever-present grin has told much of the tale this week. He contends that he doesn’t feel any added pressure prior to this highest of high-profile fights against the undefeated, No. 1-ranked heavyweight in the world. On the contrary, he’s just excited.
“Like I used to say, when you are nice, nice things happen to you,” dos Santos says. “I like to be nice, but when I come to fight inside the Octagon, I take that very seriously ... I think it's very important to keep your emotions in control. The goal inside the cage is to win the fight, so you have to keep your focus on that. That’s what I try to do. I just want to win the fight. I don't want to hurt my opponent and I don’t want to hurt myself, I just want to win.”
Velasquez has dos Santos scouted
Even before dos Santos bested Shane Carwin in their No. 1 contender bout at UFC 131, Cain Velasquez had been keeping an eye on him. After watching the talented Brazilian march through an increasingly difficult gauntlet of 265-pound foes during his three years in the UFC, it seems like the champ has known for some time that dos Santos could be trouble.
Then again, keeping tabs on the competition is essentially Velasquez’s job.
“I just look at all the heavyweights out there,” he says. “You’ve got to do your homework, you’ve got to watch all the fights. That’s what I do, you know? Once I see a heavyweight out there, I’m going to do my homework.”
Perhaps that preparation is one of the reasons Velasquez has been the picture of calm this week. While he’s been highly complementary of dos Santos’ skills -- especially his boxing and takedown defense -- the American Kickboxing Academy product appears to believe he has victory well in hand.
“He’s impressive every time he goes out there and fights,” Velasquez says. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but I think we’ve got this one.”