From the time Dan Henderson boarded a plane from California until the moment he landed in Singapore, his professional life took an unexpected turn. Just before he left, he had heard from the UFC about the possibility of him fighting light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones in February. But soon after landing, he heard more official news that left him, he says, in shock.
Instead of a title match with Jones, he had been thrown off to the side, while his friend Chael Sonnen was unexpectedly thrust into the role. Sonnen, the fighter who hadn't competed in the division in seven years. Sonnen, the fighter who was coming off a lopsided TKO loss at the hands of Anderson Silva.
To Henderson, it just didn't make sense.
"I absolutely think it was a bad decision for the sport," he said on Wednesday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It just makes the sport lose a little bit of integrity."
To be fair, Henderson said he didn't begrudge Sonnen taking the opportunity -- "Someone offers him a fight and great opportunity like that, why wouldn’t he take it?" he said -- and even said that he'd be happy to help Sonnen train for the bout, but said from a pure sporting standpoint, the fight makes no sense. Which leads him, like most, to the conclusion that the decision was made for entertainment reasons.
"I understand that [Dana White] does what he does for the UFC and always has, first and foremost," he said. "He tries to accommodate the fighters as he can, but it’s more about saving the ratings on The Ultimate Fighter show, and I understand that."
Henderson said that he was never asked about coaching on TUF, and confirmed he would have agreed to it for the chance to fight Jones.
Instead, the decision to bypass Henderson means that the 42-year-old fighter will spend more than a year on the shelf, much of it while awaiting a title shot that never came.
Henderson says he has no regrets about the decision because he felt that a title shot was something that he'd earned through his recent successes. But he also said that he's no longer going to concern himself with fighting for the belt. In his estimation, if it comes, it comes, and if it doesn't, it's unfortunate for a lot of people.
Instead, he'd like to get back to being active. He plans to be ready to fight by February's Super Bowl weekend show and believes a match up with Lyoto Machida is in the offing.
"I think that’s what’s being talked about," he said. "We'll wait and see. I don’t think it’s a secret. Dana already announced he was going to try to put him and me together."
That, he hopes, will be the first of three fights in 2013, which will help make up for the lost time of 2012. After returning from his trip, he recently got back into the gym and said he feels "pretty good," although his still-healing knee injury has him at less than 100 percent.
For Hendo, the waiting game is over, and it's full steam ahead into the New Year.
"I don't regret it at all but at the same time I'm not going to wait now," he said. "I feel like I want to be active. Whoever they put in front of me, I’ll fight, and I'll make sure I beat him."
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