When he meets Eddie Alvarez for their recently announced bout at UFC Fight Night 59 in January, it may be the last time we see former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at 155 lbs. According to Henderson’s head coach, John Crouch, on UFC Tonight, “Smooth” is tired of the weight cut, and “would like to see what it feels like to not cut weight.” The news does not come as a surprise — Henderson has been talking about a potential move up to welterweight for months.

Fair enough. Weight cuts can be gruelling, and have come under the microscope over the past year, as more and more fighters have encountered health issues from the practice, most notably Renan Barao, who slipped and fell due to light headedness caused by dropping weight prior to his scheduled rematch with T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 177. Barao was pulled from the event and replaced last minute with relative unknown Joe Soto. It was a devastating blow to an already struggling PPV event.

Recently, the California State Athletic Commission proposed guideline changes to how weight cuts are handled, including testing fighter’s urine to measure hydration and performing caliper measurements well before a fighter is licensed, which would set a minimum weight a fighter could compete at. Same-day weigh-ins were also mused. The proposals, first mentioned by CSAC head Andy Foster on UFC Central radio, are far from official, and could change — but it’s clear that weight cutting is going to become this year’s hot button issue.

As a result, there’s no time like the present for a fighter to go up, or, more accurately for many, to fight at their natural weight. Which brings us back to Benson Henderson, a larger lightweight by any stretch of the imagination. There was talk almost from the moment Henderson first won the 155lb title that he could jump up to welterweight; it seemed like only a matter of time. As fighters age, most find the weight cut more and more difficult. With his size, he could be a legitimate threat. A superfight with GSP was whispered about, though Dana White was not keen on the idea. Then came the loss to Pettis, and Henderson wound up working his way back up the lightweight ranks, only to be derailed by Rafael dos Anjos.

There are a number of other factors pointing towards a Henderson move up to welterweight: coming off the loss against dos Anjos, Henderson is out of the title picture for the first time in years. He has lost to current champ Anthony Pettis twice (including their legendary WEC match), has fought most of the other relevant combatants in the division, and even were challenger Gilbert Melendez to defeat Pettis in December, is anyone really chomping at the bit to see Henderson vs. Melendez 2? Their first fight saw Henderson taking a close decision, and while it was a good fight, their potential rematch just doesn’t seem to be one that really captures the imaginations of fight fans. Donald Cerrone is facing the undefeated Myles Jury the very same month, and the winner of that has more of a fresh feel as far as title fights at lightweight go. Beyond that, there’s Khabib Nurmagomedov in the conversation, and the man who defeated Smooth, dos Anjos, who is on a two-fight win streak and matched up with Nate Diaz in December.

Meanwhile, at welterweight, the division is wide open, meaning the terrain is favourable towards an insurrection by someone like Henderson, who could come up and make a quick splash with a win or two. Fans are always hungry for a serving of meaning when it comes to big fights: why should they care? Beyond just seeing who is best, what’s the story behind the match-up? Working towards joining the very select club of multiple weight class champions provides a ready-made story and gives fans a reason to tune in. With no pun intended, a move up to welterweight, if successful, makes Benson Henderson a much bigger star.

Timing is everything, however. Win or lose (and more preferably, win), Henderson needs a solid effort against Alvarez if it is to be his final fight at lightweight. And if he can do that, then he needs to strike while the iron is hot, and ride some momentum up into the welterweight division.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.