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MMA legend Benson Henderson promising memorable night at Friday's Bellator 285: 'I'm going to go give the Irish fans a show'

'We only get so many chances at this, so you should treat it as such – that they're all very, very big deals.'
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As Benson Henderson nears the twilight of a career that has seen him compete at the highest level of mixed martial arts for the past 13 years, he has little – if anything – left to prove.

Still, the 38-year-old Henderson says the fire that drives him to compete burns as brightly as ever, even if some of the extracurricular activities that surround fighting might not be his favorite part of the game.

"The passion part, the desire to compete, the desire to lay it all on the line and go get my hand raised, that's the easy part," Henderson told MMA Underground. "The hard part can be all the extra activities – the this, the that, the media obligations, the interviews. I mean, it's not all bad, and if you want to be a champion, if you want to be at that level, it's something you have to deal with, but that's the hard stuff.

"For me personally, the hard stuff is not fighting. That's easy. Being a competitor? Let's go compete. Let's go do it. No problem. Easy. Any day, any time, no problem. But the setup for it, the interviews, 'OK, now we're going to do a photo shoot. We're going to do videos, and we need youto take time off. We need you to take time away from the kids and go do this and go do that. Oh, we need you to come over here,' that can be the real trial, the real hard part."

A former champion in both the UFC and now-defunct WEC, "Smooth" has been in the spotlight almost continuously since he claimed the interim WEC lightweight title in 2009 against future UFC Hall of Famer Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. That trend continues when he headlines Friday's Bellator 285 event, which airs live on Showtime (4 p.m. ET) from Dublin's 3Arena.

There, Henderson (29-11 MMA, 6-6 BMMA) takes on Irishman Peter Queally (13-6-1 MMA, 2-2 BMMA) in the night's main event. It's a key matchup at 155 pounds, with Henderson currently at No. 3 in Bellator's official lightweight rankings and Queally sitting at No. 7.

At this point in his career, it may seem odd that Henderson is willing to travel to an opponent's backyard when he could certainly turn down such an offer without causing much question. But Henderson says a 2019 trip to the same venue that resulted in a bit of a ho-hum win over fellow big-show veteran Myles Jury left him with a desire to return.

"I'm very excited to come to Dublin, Ireland once again and put on a show, give the Irish fans a better show," Henderson said. "My last show against Myles Jury I thought was a little lackluster. I wanted to give a better show, and I promised Irish fans that night after I got my hand raised, 'Hey, I'm sorry, guys. That wasn't as much as I wanted to give you guys. I promise I'll come out here again. If I get a chance to fight here in Ireland, I'm going to say yes to fight in Ireland again, and I'll come back out here and I'll give you guys a better show.'

"What better chance? What better stage? How else can you set that up better than going against one of their own, Peter Queally? And I'm like, 'I'm going to go give the Irish fans a show.'"

Irish MMA fans are a notoriously passionate group, and even a respected veteran like Henderson will likely face the wrath of a hostile environment. While The MMA Lab product isn't routinely accustomed to such welcomes, he says it's not entirely alien to him, and he knows exactly how to handle it.

"I have been booed at some of my past fights, believe it or not," Henderson said. "I have entered the cage to boos, but after the fight was done, after I got my hand raised, I left the cage with the crowd cheering, going crazy. That's what's going to happen.

"Friday night against Peter Queally, the crowd will be booing me as I walk into the cage. No problem. No worries. That is A-OK. You guys have a right to that, but when I leave that cage after the performance I put on, after I open up my heart and soul, let a little bit of his light shine out, I can almost promise you that the Irish fans are going to be cheering their heads off crazy, me leaving that cage."

Whether or not a victory propels Henderson to one final run at the title remains to be seen. The undefeated Usman Nurmagomedov has the next crack at reigning lightweight champ Patricky "Pitbull" Freire, and promotional newcomer Tofiq Musayev made a pretty strong claim at being on deck following his scintillating 27-second victory at July's Bellator 283.

But with Henderson admittedly winding down a legendary career that includes wins over the likes of MMA luminaries Nate Diaz, Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida, Jorge Masvidal, Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson, to name but a few, it's important for him to savor these final trips to the cage, regardless of circumstances.

"They're all big," Henderson said. "They're all important. They're all life or death. We only get so many chances at this, so you should treat it as such – that they're all very, very big deals."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.