Henderson and Rua both gave it all they had for all five rounds, and the story of the fight was that Henderson built up a big enough lead on the judges' scorecards early that he was able to hold on and win the fight despite being dominated in the fourth and fifth rounds. All three judges scored it 48-47 for Henderson.
The victory represents an impressive return to the UFC for Henderson, who left Strikeforce as its light heavyweight champion and is now a winner inside the Octagon again.
"That guy can take an F-ing punch," Henderson said afterward.
Henderson got off to a great start, first sinking a standing front choke in, and then letting go of the choke and teeing off with punches. By the time Shogun finally got away, his left eye was badly bloodied. Henderson seemed to be in control of the fight for the first three and a half minutes, but Shogun landed a big overhand right that hurt Henderson, then several hammer fists on the ground before Henderson could get back to his feet safely.
In the second round the pace slowed as both men tired out, but Shogun was the more tired, while Henderson was more fresh. Henderson connected with some hard punches as Shogun gasped for air, and Henderson was up two rounds to none.
In the third Henderson landed a huge punch that knocked Rua down, and then Henderson pounced and started pounding Rua on the ground so hard that it appeared that referee Josh Rosenthal would step in and stop the fight. But Rosenthal let it go, and Rua amazingly managed to not just survive but actually put Henderson in some trouble by attempting a heel hook. Henderson eventually pulled his leg free, but Rua got back up and kept fighting and did a nice job of pressing Henderson against the cage and connecting with hard shots late in the round, although Henderson had done enough early in the round that he clearly won the third.
At the start of the fourth Rua went for a takedown and got the fight to the ground, but it was Henderson who got into a dominant position, first controlling Rua in a crucifix and then mounting Rua. And then they scrambled up to their feet, and we saw one of the craziest rounds in UFC history: Both men were so exhausted and so hurt that they could barely fight, but they kept going with everything they could muster, and Rua got the better of the exchanges, battering Henderson with hard punches and getting on top of him on the ground, winning the round.
In the fifth it was more of the same, with both men just trying to survive after 20-plus minutes of brutal action. Rua got on top of Henderson on the ground and battered away, but Henderson managed to survive the round despite being mounted multiple times. Both men were bloody messes by the time this classic fight ended.