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Future unknown for Henderson entering 2016

Former UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson returns at welterweight Saturday against Jorge Masvidal in South Korea. Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images

By the time the book eventually closes on 2015, it will have been an interesting year for the UFC's Ben Henderson.

It began normally enough. Henderson (22-5) was booked to fight fellow lightweight contender Eddie Alvarez on Jan. 18 in Boston. Alvarez, however, withdrew due to injury two weeks out and was replaced by Donald Cerrone. Henderson accepted the switch, fought Cerrone for the third time in his career, and lost a close three-round decision.

The following month, Henderson agreed to a welterweight fight against Brandon Thatch on two weeks' notice. Despite a comical size disadvantage, Henderson won the fight via submission in the fourth round. It remains a candidate for fight of the year.

Henderson intended to return to lightweight this summer, but an injury prevented it. He has said little about the injury itself, only describing it as "the worst of my career.'"

The former lightweight champion will return to the Octagon on Saturday, as a welterweight, against late-replacement Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night in Seoul, South Korea. Henderson was originally to fight Thiago Alves, but that matchup fell through due to injury.

This kind of chaos -- switching between weight divisions, agreeing to fight anyone and everyone regardless of rank -- usually makes sense for fighters on losing streaks or approaching the tail end of their careers. Henderson, 32, is still ranked highly at lightweight though, and he's less than two years removed from holding the UFC title.

So, it's natural to ask: what's his strategy? Does he have one?

"I'm at 170 pounds for this fight," Henderson told ESPN.com. "After that, we'll see. I want to fight for a belt -- any belt. I just want that chance.

"At the time I was looking to book a fight, I don't remember the exact number but out of the top eight or so in the lightweight division, I had beaten six or seven of them. I asked to fight [former champion Anthony Pettis], but he declined. He wanted a 'relevant fight.' I guess I wasn't relevant, but Myles Jury, who he wanted to fight, was. As a fighter, you can only do so much to get the matchup you want. We got the feeling the UFC wasn't feeling the idea of rematches, so I figured I'd have a long way back to the belt. We're hoping at 170, with so many fresh matchups, I'll have a few good performances and get a shot from there."

Henderson wants to still have the option of dropping to 155 at any time, so he has not added much weight for this "run" at welterweight. He guesses he'll enter the cage on Saturday around 176 pounds, which will leave him significantly undersized for the division. Perhaps fortunately for Henderson, his new opponent, Masvidal (29-9), is also a former lightweight who recently made the move to welterweight.

The Arizona-based Henderson has made it known he'll accept virtually any lightweight or welterweight fight on short notice. In October, he called UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and asked to replace Johny Hendricks in a fight against Tyron Woodley at UFC 192. Hendricks had been forced to pull out of the fight 24 hours before, after experiencing issues cutting weight.

"Some guys say they'll do that, but I want to back it up," Henderson said. "I want to be the guy who doesn't just talk about it. I want to be the guy who says, 'Yeah, I can fight five rounds today.'"

Henderson's lack of a weight class and the commitment to raising his hand for every fight that comes along aren't the only issues that make him a bit of an unknown in 2016.

This weekend's fight represents the last of an eight-fight contract he signed with the UFC in 2013. Henderson declined to discuss the particulars of his contractual situation, citing confidentiality agreements, but he has not announced any kind of extension with the UFC.

Henderson would no doubt draw interest from several fight promotions should he enter free agency. He made it clear he is looking forward to a "long and fruitful" relationship with the UFC, whom he has been with since 2011, but added he's a fan of any "free market" business model.

"Democracy is good and capitalism works," Henderson said. "It's all about having a free market system -- not having a monopoly and having another organization to work for. I am a full fan of 'God Bless America' and our free-market society."

Henderson is 10-3 overall in the UFC. Masvidal, who was originally scheduled to fight Dong Hyun Kim in Saturday's co-main event, is coming off a knockout win against Cezar Ferreira in July.