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Benson Henderson signs with Bellator after UFC declines a matching offer

Benson Henderson

Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson announced Tuesday that he has signed with Bellator MMA.

Henderson's contract expired after his split decision win over Jorge Masvidal on 11/28 in Seoul, South Korea, and it was well known he was in talks with Bellator since that point. UFC had the right to match the Bellator offer, but declined according to a tweet from MMA Junkie's John Morgan who spoke with Dana White.

It is expected Henderson will fight at welterweight in Bellator where he would be considered a strong favorite if he were to face current champion Andrey Koreshkov. The 170 pound division is wide open for him to talk into a title fight, but he'd have more money fights at lightweight. Lightweight is the company's strongest division with the likes of current lightweight champion Will Brooks, Michael Chandler, and Josh Thomson.

On Facebook, Henderson (23-5) thanked the UFC, including a number of people behind the scenes as well as White and Lorenzo Fertitta. He also did an interview on Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour show.

"I'm beyond excited for this next phase of my career," he wrote. "It's a big move, like any move when switching employers or jobs after having worked somewhere for such a long time.

Henderson started with Zuffa in 2009, as part of the WEC lightweight division. He had a classic all-time match later that year when he won the interim title in a match with Donald Cerrone, and followed that up with by beating Jamie Varner for the title. Henderson lost the title to Anthony Pettis in another of the great fights of the era, via decision, in 2010, featuring Pettis doing the Showtime kick off the cage to knock Henderson down in the closing minute of the fight. Henderson then defeated Frankie Edgar on February 26, 2012, to win the UFC lightweight title. He defended it four times before losing to Pettis on August 31, 2013. He fought at welterweight in his last two UFC fights.