While mixed martial arts has long been a controversial topic in Arizona, as in other states, it is becoming increasingly popular for good reason: studies show that 18.1 million Americans participated in karate or some other form of martial art at least once in the past year. Now, a top-ranked athlete based in the Grand Canyon may be scheduled to compete in a heavily-publicized tournament, which could draw more attention to martial arts in the area and help promote local businesses as well.
UFC president Dana White recently confirmed that the TUF 21 Finale will take place on July 12 at a Miami-area venue that has yet to be selected. The event, which is broadcast on FOX Sports 1, will feature the tournament final UFC’s long-running reality series, TUF 21. Unlike past incarnations, the 10th season has pitted two of South Florida’s top gyms against each other, with the winning team set to win $500,000. However, White also teased rumors of a lightweight bout between notable MMA personalities Benson Henderson and Michael Johnson, saying “it’s in the works.”
Henderson is a UFC Lightweight Champion currently ranked as one of the top 10 lightweight mixed martial artists in the world. In contrast, Johnson is a high-ranked member of the Blackilians, one of the TUF 21 teams. While Henderson isn’t currently participating in the show that gives the TUF 21 Finale its name, the two fighters recently campaigned to fight against each other, a possibility that drew considerable interest from fans and athletes.
Henderson is a former UFC and WEC lightweight champion based in Arizona with The MMA Lab, currently ranked No. 5 by USA Today Sports. After suffering a knockout loss to current champion Rafael dos Anjos and a decision defeat to Donald Cerrone, Henderson moved up to welterweight within two weeks and scored a “Fight of the Night” win over Brandon Thatch. In contrast, Johnson previously competed in TUF 12, is ranked No. 10 and has since moved into title contention with a four-fight winning streak.
During an interview with MMAjunkie, Johnson mentioned that he was interested in fighting Henderson because of his tendency to engage during fights instead of running away. If such a fight were to occur at the TUF 21 Finale, Johnson would likely be the crowd favorite as a local South Florida fighter.
However, Henderson’s potential involvement could be significant to the MMA movement in Arizona: in early April, the Arizona Boxing and MMA Commission (ABMC) placed local fighter Eric Regan on indefinite suspension after he suffered a violent kick to the head that left him slumped against the cage wall for several seconds, essentially forcing him into retirement.
The decision was a controversial one, drawing attention to concussion awareness and MMA equipment, but also to the potential dangers of the sport. A Henderson victory might be exactly what the state needs to focus on the benefits of the sport, which supports a flourishing industry of entertainment, sports gear and classes, rather than the possible repercussions.