Popular Christian fighter Ben Henderson won the UFC lightweight title for the first time Saturday night in Japan, defeating champion Frankie Edgar in the UFC 144 pay-per-view event.
The event, which took place around Sunday at noon in Japan, was the first UFC show in the country since 2000. The main event fight was for the lightweight title, and proved to be the best match of the night, with Edgar and Henderson each being awarded $65,000 for having the most exciting bout on the card.
Although the match was hotly disputed, the turning point was when Henderson broke Edgar's nose with an upkick late in the second round and closed Edgar's left eye with his strikes. The judges favored Henderson at the end with scores of 49-46, 48-47 and 49-46, giving him the unanimous victory. The very first thing Henderson did after the fight was dedicate his victory to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a statement which was translated for the Japanese audience in the arena.
Henderson embraced his mother, Song, in the stands on his way out of the octagon, ESPN reported. The Christian mixed martial artist, who is the first African-American Korean fighter to win the lightweight title, has been outspoken about his faith – he regularly credits God in his victories, and has two large angel wings tattooed down his back.
"I went to church all the time growing up so it's a big part of my life. As far as being in MMA, it definitely effects how I conduct myself in the MMA world. The person who most influenced me was Alvin Robinson who fought in the UFC a couple of times. He taught me how to be a great fighter, how to take it professionally and how to conduct myself as a professional athlete, not a meathead cage fighter," Henderson explained in a 2010 interview on Heavy.com. He also shared that his mother, a Korean, is a Buddhist, but she raised him and his brother as Christians.
"We may not be in the NBA or the NFL but we are professional athletes and we should conduct ourselves in a certain way. He not only showed me how to do that but also how to be a strong Christian and how to be strong in my faith. The MMA world has a different sub culture and it can be tough. Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect. I sin. Everyone is a sinner but Alvin showed me how to be involved in this lifestyle and still be a strong Christian. Before my fights I pray for strength and honor. I pretty much live my life by that code," the fighter continued.
Although Mixed Martial Arts fighting remains controversial for many due to the violent nature of the sport, such as fighting inside a cage, it is one of the fastest-growing past times for young adults, especially males. It has also earned the backing of some big-name Christian figures, such as Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll.
"If MMA were a sin, we would need to bring up for church discipline every wrestler, American- and Australian-rules football player, rugby player, and hockey player, along with everyone who is involved in combat sports," Driscoll wrote in a blog post in November 2011.
"And if we were going to also discipline those who were endangering their bodies for athletic competition, we would need to include the cheerleaders as well. While we're at it, we should also rebuke God for wrestling all night with Jacob, and tell Paul to stop using wrestling metaphors to teach us spiritual principles throughout the Bible because he's setting a bad example," the pastor added.