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How Benson Henderson’s post-fight proposal came together at UFC on Fox 7

Henderson’s next title defense will be against the winner of Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant

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Associated Press

Benson Henderson, center, celebrates with his finacee, Maria Magana, left, and his mother, Song Henderson, after defeating Gilbert Melendez in a UFC lightweight championship mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. Henderson won by split decision to retain the championship. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

UFC on Fox 7

Benson Henderson, right, kicks Gilbert Melendez during the second round of a UFC lightweight championship mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. Henderson won by split decision to retain the championship. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) Launch slideshow »

As he walked out of the octagon after UFC on Fox 7, Benson Henderson shrugged his shoulders and inched his index finger and thumb together to create a paper-thin separation.

The gesture to signify how tight his split-decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 47-48) over Gilbert Melendez was with his right hand. What mattered most to Henderson was in his left — the hand of girlfriend Maria Magana, adorned with a ring with more sparkle than the lightweight title belt around the champion’s waist.

“I brought the ring with me just in case I decided to go through with it,” Henderson said. “I was on the fence all week doing interviews and stuff. Then I was like, ‘OK I’m going to do it. I’ve got to man up and do it.’”

For someone whose reputation for close calls grew yet again Saturday night, this decision was decisive. With Henderson down on a knee, Magana accepted the proposal quicker than her now-fiancée’s most precise jab.

“I’m very aware of how small fighting really matters in the grand scheme of things — wife, kids, family,” Henderson said. “Seriously, fighting. There are a lot bigger things in life. I’m able to keep things in perspective.”

Henderson couldn’t pinpoint what triggered the last-minute choice to share one of the most significant moments of his life with 13,506 fans at HP Pavilion and millions of television viewers across the globe. He just decided hours before his third title defense and found himself going into UFC President Dana White’s dressing room during the preliminary card to ask permission.

White didn’t how to respond. He had never faced a request like this, one that wanted to follow 25 minutes of unbridled violence with pure love.

“Henderson’s an interesting character, man,” White said.

After chatting with Henderson for 15 minutes, however, White checked with the Fox production team and gave the go-ahead.

White still didn’t know what to think, especially after peeking into Melendez’s locker room and seeing the former Strikeforce champion prepare like “a (expletive) raging bull.” He wondered whether Henderson was distracted and thought he might agree with what UFC bantamweight champion and commentator Dominick Cruz said after hearing the secret.

The incredulous Cruz wanted to know why Henderson couldn’t wait until dinner after the fight.

“He was like, ‘Oh (expletive), I thought Henderson was going to win. Now I don’t think so anymore,’” White said.

In the end, White seemed like one of the only people in attendance who thought Henderson won. The vast majority of media scores cage side — including the Las Vegas Sun’s — had Melendez winning the first, second and fifth rounds for a 48-47 victory.

Boos rained down when announcer Bruce Buffer proclaimed Henderson the winner. A loss was the one variable that could have ruined the proposal plan.

“That wouldn’t be the best look,” Henderson laughed.

But Henderson never worried about that. Immediately after the last bell, he started to think about what to say — a challenge he described as more difficult than any fight — because he was certain he’d keep the belt.

“I wouldn’t say there was any doubt I had won,” Henderson said. “I knew it was close. I thought that perhaps I had lost the first round but then I won the next four.”

Melendez, who’s already engaged, knew it was close too. But he thought he won the final round to clinch the victory.

One of the three judges awarded the last five minutes to Henderson, which ended up being the difference in the bout.

“My heart is broken,” Melendez said.

Melendez’s hurt will stick for a while, as White announced he would not receive an immediate rematch. Henderson will instead meet the winner of a UFC 160 bout between Gray Maynard and T.J. Grant later this year.

It’s not the only date Henderson is waiting for with great anticipation.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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