Besides pure talent and athletic ability, the thing that most separates a champion from the rest of the pack is the mindset of not resting on ones laurels.

A good fighter can get away with living off of previous accomplishments but a great fighter will continuously strive to better themselves every single time they step into the cage.

For WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson, it is exactly that type of mentality that makes him one of the most promising fighters in the 155-lbs division.

A native of Glendale, Arizona, Henderson isn’t content with the idea of sitting back and boasting about his rapid rise to the top of the WEC lightweight kingdom.

Sure, he is certainly proud of how far he has come in a short period of time but unlike many champions of the past and present, he hasn’t lost his hunger.

Fighting in his hometown

On December 16, Henderson will defend his lightweight crown against dangerous contender Anthony Pettis at WEC 53 in his hometown of Glendale, AZ.

Factor in that this will be the first major MMA event to ever take place in Arizona and the very last WEC event before the organization merges into the UFC and you have yourself a historical fight card.

“I think it’s a huge deal and I have to give credit, first of all, to all of the hardcore fans who live here in Phoenix, [Arizona],” Henderson said.

“It was very close, like neck and neck [between Phoenix, AZ and Milwaukee, WI] for the last few days in the [AMP Energy Hometown Takedown contest] and we pulled away and won it so big shout out to all of those guys in Phoenix who made it possible for me to fight here and it’s definitely going to be a good send off [for the WEC].”

Thoughts on Pettis

Heading into this fight, some could easily say that Henderson shares a ton of similarities to his opponent Pettis. For example, they both bring a tremendous amount of athleticism into the cage and are well equipped at all areas of the game.

They both put their families ahead of themselves and are very humble and religious human beings.

Growing up they were each taught the importance of hard work and were never handed anything, they worked for it all.

Simply put, these two lightweights are two of the most genuine and kind hearted individuals that you will find in this sport. Henderson explains that there is no animosity between the two but when that bells rings they are both going to come out looking to destroy the other.

“I think he’s a good guy. I watched that MTV’s World of Jenks episode [where Pettis was featured] and I thought he came across very well. He seems like a nice guy so I don’t really have anything bad to say about him. He’s a tough fighter and it will be a fun night come December 16th, I’ll tell you that.”

That level of mutual respect is one of the many reasons why MMA is such an amazing sport. You don’t always have to hate your opponent in order to put on a barn burner. In fact, Henderson believes that this particular fight could become a classic.

“We’re not going to stand there and stare at each other for 25 minutes,” Henderson said.

“Anytime you have two guys go in there with that mentality, not being like ‘oh if I score a takedown in the last 30 seconds I’ll steal the round’ or ‘I already won three rounds so I’ll play it safe to win the decision’, but two guys who go in there and actually want to fight there is always potential for fans to talk about that fight for years to come.”

A new beginning in the UFC

Last month, when Dana White announced that the WEC would be merging into the UFC effective in 2011, the entire MMA world was ecstatic.

For Henderson, the thought of competing against the greatest lightweights in the world has him salivated at the mouth in excitement.

“I thought it was awesome. Not to sound too cocky or brash but my goal has always been from the very beginning to fight the best guys on the planet and beat them,” Henderson said.

“I always assumed that it was just a matter of time before I fight whoever is considered the best fighter on the planet at 155-lbs.”

Fortunately for Henderson, his dream of squaring off with the top ranked lightweight in the world will come true very soon if he can get past Pettis that is.

Unifying the WEC and UFC lightweight titles

If the 27 year old manages to keep his title in Glendale, his next fight will be for the most prestigious title in the sport, the UFC lightweight championship.

Henderson will face the winner of the upcoming title bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, which is taking place at UFC 125, to unify the WEC and UFC championships.

Some critics have been spectacle of this decision, noting that former WEC champs Steve Cantwell and Carlos Condit weren’t given the same treatment when they were brought into the UFC.

However, Henderson believes the timing is right and the fight will be huge.

“Considering I’ve already fought all of the top guys in the WEC and handled myself pretty well there I am not too surprised. It makes sense matchup-wise and it makes sense promotional-wise and in terms of my career it makes sense to me in my own humble opinion,” Henderson said.

As far as whom he would prefer to fight between Edgar and Maynard, Henderson has no preference. He’s not looking past Pettis at all but welcomes any challenge he has coming his way in the future.

“Either one, it doesn’t matter. The thing is that you have to be able to have your game, not suitable to other fighters, but you have to be able to change the matchups to be in your favor,” Henderson said.

“So whether I’m going against a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guy or a Kyokushin karate guy with sick standup or a beast of a wrestler, it doesn’t matter. I can mold my game and find a weakness to make any matchup favorable on my side.”

Response to negative comments from Strikeforce fighter Josh Thomson

Heading into his matchup with Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante last October, former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson blasted the media for their current lightweight rankings.

Thomson felt it was a disgrace how websites listed Henderson in their rankings ahead of his opponent Cavalcante.

In response to that, Henderson believes everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But he confidently believes that Thomson will change his tune in the next few years.

“All I am going to say is give me time… give me time,” Henderson said.

“You haven’t heard of me yet? You don’t think I’m worthy? Ok sure but give me another year, give me another two years… I’m just getting started.”

“I am just getting started, give me another 2 or 3 years and then see what everyone else is saying. Then go interview him and ask him what he thinks then because I am just getting started.”

Mitch Ciccarelli is the sexiest columnist in MMA. Currently engaged to both Jessica Biel and Martha Stewart, Ciccarelli is a staff writer for in addition to being a featured columnist here on B/R. Follow Mitch on twitter if you are looking to read some interesting tweets about [chicken] breasts, midget massage therapists, and MMA. [MENTION=24521]mitchciccarelli[/MENTION]