Henderson earned a controversial split decision win over the man he had beaten for the belt in February, Frankie Edgar, in the five-round main event of Saturday night's UFC 150 at Denver's Pepsi Center.
Edgar earned a 49-46 score on judge Tony Weeks' card, but Mark Van Tine and Dave Hagen's scores of 48-47 for Henderson allowed "Smooth" to retain his championship belt.
Henderson looked to be in control early, buckling his opponent with powerful low kicks and ending the first round by applying a guillotine choke. But Edgar changed the course of the fight in the second, flooring Henderson with a crisp right hand. The momentum-changer set the tone for the final 15 minutes of the bout, which went back and forth and resulted in several close rounds.
Rounds three and five were the closest frames, featuring Henderson's power against Edgar's volume and movement. Edgar was the busier fighter while Henderson looked to land knockout blows. In the end, Henderson got the victory — taking rounds one, three and four on the winning cards — but the Pepsi Center crowd voiced its disapproval by showering the octagon with boos.
UFC President Dana White didn't say who he personally felt won the fight but suggested the contest even heading into the fifth and final round. He did acknowledge the decision was at least somewhat controversial but said the result simply highlights what he often tells his fighters.
"It's one of those controversial decisions," White said. "I'm not a judge, but Ben Henderson won the fight tonight. He retained his title, and that's the end of it. I know there were a lot of people that scored the fight differently, but I tell these guys all the time, 'If you don't like the way the judges score, don't let it get there. Don't let it get there.'"
With the win, Henderson will next face Nate Diaz, who White declared the No. 1 contender earlier in the week.
"God bless him," Henderson said. "It's going to be a fun fight. He's a tough fighter.
"There's a long list of guys. I have a bullseye on my back. Let's go. Let's do it."
Edgar has now dropped back-to-back fights to Henderson and will again have to address whether or not his 5-foot-6 frame is best suited for the featherweight division.
"I thought I brought it to him," Edgar said. "I'm upset, man."
Edgar, who also contends he should have been awarded the victory in the pair's first meeting, said he and his team felt they had done enough to notch a win this time around, as well. However, he said the only available option is to simply move on from the defeat.
"It doesn't really matter what I think at this point," Edgar said. "That decision is never going to change, so it is what it is."
The evening's other main event lasted just 76 seconds, but delivered big on excitement from start to finish.
At the opening bell, friends and former training parters Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Melvin Guillard clashed quickly in the center of the octagon. Guillard struck first with a crisp left that floored Cerrone, and he rushed forward to finish. Cerrone looked to be in trouble as he tried to recover from the blow, but somehow survived the barrage of knees and punches and retreated to safety.
Then everything changed.
A Cerrone high kick grazed Guillard's head but landed flush enough to wobble him. Cerrone saw the opening and pounced with a powerful right hand that floored his opponent. A follow-up shot sealed the deal 76 seconds after it began.
Cerrone earned a US$60,000 bonus check for the evening's "Knockout of the Night," and both "Cowboy" and Guillard earned another US$60,000 for the evening's "Fight of the Night."
Complete UFC 150 results:
Benson Henderson def. Frankie Edgar via split decision (46-49, 48-47, 48-47)
Donald Cerrone def. Melvin Guillard via knockout (punch) — Round 1, 1:16
Jake Shields def. Ed Herman via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Yushin Okami def. Buddy Roberts via TKO (strikes) — Round 2, 3:05
Max Holloway def. Justin Lawrence via TKO (strikes) — Round 2, 4:49
Dennis Bermudez def. Tommy Hayden via submission (standing guillotine choke) — Round 1, 4:43
Michael Kuiper def. Jared Hamman via TKO (punch) — Round 2, 2:16
Erik Perez def. Ken Stone via TKO (strikes) — Round 1, 0:17
Chico Camus def. Dustin Pague via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)
Nik Lentz def. Eiji Mitsuoka via TKO (strikes) — Round 1, 3:45