When Benson Henderson popped up after submitting Brandon Thatch, an observant viewer took a screenshot that showed Henderson with a toothpick sticking out of his mouth. This is not the first time that Smooth has been spotted with the now infamous toothpick. Fans first noticed it after his win over Nate Diaz, and then again after his KO loss to Rafael dos Anjos. The old adage says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” But the relevant question here is, after three times – who should be ashamed?
To place any blame on the UFC would be foolish at best. The UFC is not responsible for checking the fighters before they enter the cage, the UFC is not responsible for supervising the wrapping of hands and the fighters’ pre-fight behaviors – those responsibilities rest solely with the athletic commission supervising the event. Typically, the athletic commission will assign bout inspectors to each fight. These bout inspectors are responsible for supervising the fighters while their hands are wrapped and undergo other fight preparations, then walking the fighters to the cage for the bout.
Then, as you’ve seen on TV at every UFC event, a referee outside of the cage will check the fighter for excessive Vaseline, make sure the gloves are properly worn and taped, and make sure the fighter has his/her mouthguard and groin protection before clearing them to enter the cage. Ninety-nine percent of the time, requiring the fighter to show s/he has her/his mouthguard in is enough to verify that the fighter is ready, but Benson Henderson has established himself in that one percent that needs more. On any event at which Henderson is fighting, the referee performing the pre-fight check should make Henderson remove his mouthguard and he should be inspected more thoroughly to see if he’s hiding a toothpick in his mouth, and once cleared and in the cage, the bout inspector should take heed to make sure that Henderson’s cornermen do not slip him a toothpick to put in before the fight starts.
You may be asking “what’s the big deal?” but it all boils down to fighter safety, and that’s a very big deal. Not just for Henderson’s opponent (although for the record, I don’t think Henderson would be dumb enough to try and use the toothpick to poke his opponent), but for Henderson himself. When dos Anjos KO’d Henderson, it is entirely possible that Henderson could have inhaled at that moment and the dislodged toothpick could have gone down his throat potentially causing major damage.
Although I’m sure Henderson would argue he holds it in such a way that it won’t become dislodged, the photos of it flying out of his mouth after the KO would say otherwise. There are numerous situations that could arise that would put Henderson in physical danger.
However, despite the fact that the athletic commissions should check him more thoroughly, and here’s hoping they do from this point on, the ultimate blame rests with Henderson. I don’t care what his reasoning is – there is no reason for him to fight with a toothpick in his mouth. It is dangerous, irresponsible, and disrespectful to his opponent, the supervising athletic commission, and the UFC. Although there is no doubt that Henderson takes his training and the sport seriously, he seems to pride himself on being a good example to others through his religious beliefs and pre and post-fight interviews. He needs to realize that behavior like this is not part of being a good example, and change his behavior before someone gets hurt.