Bellator 243 Stream Live: MMA Fighting has Bellator 243 results for the Chandler vs. Henderson 2 fight card Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. In the main event, Michael Chandler and Benson Henderson will clash in a lightweight contest. Chandler defeated Henderson via split decision at Bellator 165 on Nov. 19, 2016.
While the majority of storylines entering Friday’s Bellator 243 card have centered around former three-time lightweight champion Michael Chandler’s future whereabouts entering the final fight of his deal, it surely isn’t the only one.
Chandler (20-5) will look to enter free agency with his brand positioned at its highest value when the 34-year-old takes on former UFC champion Benson Henderson (28-8) in a 155-pound rematch that headlines the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (DAZN/Paramount Network, 10 p.m. ET). But the 36-year-old Henderson needs a win just as badly.
Riding a four-fight win streak, Henderson appears reborn following a 1-3 start to his Bellator MMA career upon joining the promotion as a prized free agent in 2016. Two of those losses came in title bouts in two different divisions, including a split-decision loss to then-lightweight champion Chandler four years ago.
The lone victory for Henderson during that span, however, came against current two-division champion and reigning 155-pound titleholder Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and a win over Chandler likely catapults Henderson into a rematch for the title once Freire first defends his featherweight belt within Bellator’s World Feather Grand Prix tournament.
So, what’s exactly at stake in Henderson’s opinion entering this weekend’s return?
“Everything. At a certain point in your career, from the very first fight, every one you have is the most important fight of your career,” Henderson told CBS Sports on Wednesday during the Bellator 243 virtual media day. “It doesn’t matter what you did before. The world we live in, our attention span is pretty short. You are only as good as your last fight so, for me, this is the most important fight of my life and I trained that way.”
Chandler has won four of six fights since he edged Henderson at Bellator 165 in San Jose yet surrendered his lightweight title for the third time in May 2019 when Freire finished him in just 61 seconds.
Given the current standing of Chandler’s contract entering free agency, there will be no shortage of emotion for the fighter who debuted with Bellator for his fourth pro fight in 2010 and has arguably been the enduring face of the franchise. He’s also very fond of continuing said relationship as long as everything makes sense.
“Michael Chandler wouldn’t be who he is without Bellator promoting him and us having a symbiotic relationship,” Chandler told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast in April. “It’s exciting for me and this is the business aspect of fighting but you still have to keep the main thing the main thing. What happens inside those 15 minutes, inside that cage is what really counts. It’s on me and my shoulders and the onus lies solely on me. If I do my job, I have no doubt we will put ink to paper.”
The 25 minutes Chandler shared inside the cage with Henderson in their first outing was an exciting one, but also one in which observers were split.
Chandler started fast and took home scores of 48-46 and 48-47 in his favor but Henderson, thanks to his menacing leg-kick attack, was clearly the fighter who exited the fight peaking after winning Round 5 handily. The third judge awarded his scorecard to Henderson, 48-46, furthering the debate over who deserved to have won the competitive middle rounds.
The biggest lesson Henderson learned from the experience is that he needs to be more assertive off the top.
“The biggest thing was that Chandler had a big first round,” Henderson said. “All the highlight clips from the fight and every positive thing people said was from Chandler’s first round but the rest of the fight was leaning my way. So I need to go out there and start with a gangbuster of a first round and set the pace and make him tired and exhausted. Fighting from there should go my way but I have to bring the fight to him and fight at such a high level. I can’t give him those 20 or 30-second breaks that he’s used to.”