Korean American seeks to retain MMA title

Lightweight champion Henderson featured in WEC pay-per-view

Henderson versus Shane Roller at the World Extreme Cagefighting 40 Event held on April 5, 2009, in Chicago (Photo provided by Dave Smoller)

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

Being the world champion has not changed life for Benson Henderson. “Everything’s pretty much the same, although I get spotted at the mall a little more,” said Henderson. The World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) Lightweight champion Henderson defends his first title against Donald Cerrone on April 24 in Sacramento, Calif.

Benson Henderson is 11-1 as a professional mixed martial artist and has won 10 fights in a row. (Photo provided by Dave Smoller)

Henderson, who grew up in Tacoma, became the champion of the WEC when he beat Jamie Varner on Jan. 10.

So what does a world champion do after winning the title? Henderson went to work, not in the gym, but at his mother’s store. Henderson flew back to work at Peter’s Grocery, a small convenience store owned and run by his mother.

He stepped in to give her some needed time off. “I worked a few shifts.” Henderson put in a 60-hour work week including a couple of 17-hour days stocking shelves and ringing up customers at the register. “It’s the least I can do,” he said, downplaying his shifts. Henderson attributes his work ethic to his mother, Song. She is Korean and his father is Black. His parents met when his father, who was in the Army at the time, was stationed in Korea. Song divorced Henderson’s father and raised Henderson and his older brother by herself. In addition, she worked several jobs to provide for her boys.

Proud of his Korean heritage, Henderson has tattoos in Korean. The tattoo on his right shoulder means champion, the one on his right rib cage means strength and honor, and the one on his left arm has his last name, Henderson.

Although most of his visit to the Northwest was focused on work, Henderson devoted time to visit the Space Needle and Pike Place Market with his mother and fiancée, Katherine. He met his fiancée in 2006 when he was asked by a friend to fly to Hawaii to help him prepare for a wrestling camp in Hawaii. Henderson got on a plane for the islands. While working out with his friend, he met his future wife. “She was a hula dancer,” Henderson said. They plan to marry in August in Hawaii.

Henderson’s status in the MMA world is well-respected. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion BJ Penn asked Henderson if he would train with Penn in preparation for his title fight last December. When Penn, a fellow Korean American, asked Henderson if he would like to train with him, he replied that he’d “stay [and train with Penn] until they would have to kick him out.” Henderson admits that training with Penn was demanding but that he learned a lot. “It was awesome,” Henderson said. He was impressed with Penn.  “The devil is in the details,” Henderson said of Penn’s work ethic. “Watching, doing what he does makes him the best on the planet.”

Ben Henderson and his mom, Song, at the Space Needle (Photo from www.smoothben.com)

A self-proclaimed “gym rat,” Henderson hangs around his training gym, the MMA Lab, in Glendale, Ariz. Even training for his first title defense, he teaches an occasional martial arts class at his gym.

Away from the gym, Henderson is an avid reader.  He devotes a portion of his website to “Ben’s Book Club” — a collection of his favorite reads. A science fiction fan, Henderson is fond of writer Ben Bova’s series of books. “I got into reading [Bova] after a visit to the library. I started reading [one of his books], and I didn’t want to put it down.” A devout Christian, Henderson is a fan of Christian fiction books written by John Ringo.

The Henderson and Cerrone fight was voted by MMA website Sherdog.com as the Fight of the Year.

Henderson expects his rematch to be “more of the same” from their November 2009 fight. “The media overanalyze it,” Henderson remarked of the hype before the fight. “We’re going to see who has improved [since the last fight].” Henderson and Cerrone’s match will be featured as one of the main events of WEC’s first pay-per-view. ♦

For more information on Ben Henderson, visit his website www.smoothben.com and via twitter at twitter.com/SMOOTHone155. For more information on the pay-per-view event on April 24, visit www.wec.tv.

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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  4. Tailo says:

    Raised by his Korean mother, while his daddy was MIA (surprise), yeah he is black 100%.

  5. SeattleMix says:

    Hey, Lauisha, what is with all the “claiming”? Uh, the guy is half Asian! And Asian Weekly has done other articles on persons of mixed backgrounds like Apolo Ohno. Oh, and glad he is proud of his heritage. Glad Asian Weekly did an article on him finally.

    Bruce Lee who also lived here in Seattle was also of mixed background as his Chinese mother was also half German. He is considered the Father of Mixed Martial Arts.

    Now if Federal Way were to start claiming talented artists because of Henderson, Apolo Ohno and Sanjaya (ok, maybe not Sanjaya) then they might have a point.

  6. Lee says:

    Interesting to see an article in the Asian Weekly written by Jason Cruz. You won’t find any articles in Jewcy or Haaretz that are written by someone who isn’t one of “the Chosen.”

  7. Laquisha says:

    Come on yall. This dude aint Korean. Hes black. He dont look nothin like his momma. Why u so eager to claim a black man is an asian?


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