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Benson Henderson hopes for win, a big TV audience and to add Gilbert Melendez to great fight list

UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (18-2) is coming off what many say was his career best performance, as he was constantly one step ahead of Nate Diaz when he retained his title on the Dec. 8 FOX show. He’s also coming off a 2012 where he picked up a number of Fighter of the Year awards. He’s had a career filled with fights that fans can instantaneously recall and visualize when they get brought up. The Diaz fight was one of the ten most-watched fights in U.S. MMA history. And on April 20 in San Jose, Calif., he’s defending his title against Gilbert Melendez, who has a very similar championship resume. A lot of fighters having pulled off that kind of success, would feel that their next title defense should be on pay-per-view. And many would have made a request for a next opponent, given that arguably the division’s top contender, Anthony Pettis, is the only person who has a win over him since he made it to the national stage. After drawing 5.7 million viewers on FOX for his battle with Diaz (with Spanish language viewership on Fox Deportes, the number was likely closer to 6 million U.S. viewers, which would be 7th place all-time), he said he felt it was just another fight, but using the soccer mom criteria, he now wants to fight on FOX as opposed to pay-per-view. (I felt) probably pretty much the same, but it was taken very well, said Henderson. I did a pretty good job. I earned a ‘W.’ But just the number of people who tuned in for the main event, 5.5 million (he shortchanged himself), that’s a lot of people. That smashes any pay-per-view numbers. A lot of guys talk about pay-per-view buys. I don’t give a crap about pay-per-view stuff. I like fighting on the biggest platform and FOX is that platform. I’m excited to be on FOX for the second time in a row. I think that it shows the trust the UFC top brass and the FOX top brass have in me. They think I’ll portray the sport in the right manner. I think it’s the cool to have that bigger platform. 5.5 million viewers and the core demographic of males, but it’s great to be watched by soccer moms who are flipping channels, they stop and watch and become fans. I go to the grocery store now, 50-year-old soccer moms say, ‘I saw you on TV.’ I really dig that, and it only happened after being on that big of a platform. Henderson said he’s hoping to top 6 million viewers for his fight with Melendez. From a championship standpoint and record standpoint, this fight is bigger. Melendez (21-2) held either the Strikeforce lightweight title or an interim belt for all but nine months from June of 2006 until the promotion closed in January. It was one of the more lengthy championship runs in the sport’s history, and because of it, Melendez was promised this title shot when Zuffa shut down Strikeforce. You have to go back five years to the purchase of Pride and UFC champ Anderson Silva vs. Strikeforce champ Dan Henderson to find the last time there was such a dynamic on the UFC stage. But there are also reasons they may fall short of 6 million viewers. April is likely more difficult than December to draw a big number on FOX, since there aren’t NFL games promoting the show. In addition, the Diaz brothers always bring an intrigue and excitement to a big fight. Probably a big reason this fight is on FOX is the on-paper excitement factor. Henderson has had two fights that have won a number of Fight of the Year awards. His 2009 WEC lightweight title win over Donald Cerrone put him on the map as a star. His 2010 loss to Anthony Pettis took him out of the running for a UFC title fight. His 2011 win over Clay Guida finished high in a lot of balloting, as did his 2012 UFC lightweight title win over Frankie Edgar. Melendez hasn’t won any fight of the year awards, but his 2006 fight with Clay Guida would have gotten a lot of talk if it wasn’t just an arena fight that didn’t air television. His three-fight series with Josh Thomson is arguably the most exciting three-match program in U.S. MMA history. Henderson cites the first of his two wins over Cerrone as his favorite. That was just a great fight, a real good fight to be a part of, he said. What I really love more than anything else is if you’re the champion, to be pushed and tested and show that you’re the champion. Like when Anderson Silva was down four-and-a-half rounds and got the triangle. That showed his heart. The first Cerrone fight, I had to be carried out. I didn’t hold anything back. It amazes me that horses can run so hard till they burst their own heart. As a fighter, I appreciate that. I get what it is, not holding back anything. I didn’t hold anything back, because if I did, I probably would have lost the fight. If I had lost, my career path could have changed. I might not be here now. I’m thankful I was able to open up my heart, not to hold anything back. That’s what I liked to be. That’s what the fans like to see in UFC, football games, basketball games, people like to see the athlete give everything they have. He…

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