The cancellation of UFC 151 spawned a series of sub-plots, including the offer of Chael Sonnen to save the show by stepping in to fight Jon Jones in the main event, a gesture that had Sonnen come off as a hero. In the days that have passed since the announcement the show would be scrapped, Jones' side has lobbed allegations that Sonnen was in the know about Dan Henderson's injury, and was secretly training in preparation of replacing Henderson in the fight.
On a Monday interview on The MMA Hour, Dan Henderson denied those claims.
"Chael didn’t know anything about it," he said. "He had definitely not been training at all. My guys told me that Greg Jackson said in an interview that Chael was down training with me and getting ready for the fight and knew I was hurt. It was nothing like that at all.. He wasn’t even down here. I asked him if he wanted to come down and help me train a couple months ago, but he didn’t come down."
Henderson said he was "shocked" when he heard Jones had declined the fight against Sonnen, and had the same feeling when he heard the entire event had been canceled.
In the time since, many have voiced similar, albeit more intense sentiments towards Jones.
"Ultimately it was his decision not to take a fight with Chael," he said. "I don't think it’s unfair that he’s been blasted like that. All I know is, that’s not the decision I would’ve made. Obviously he has his own reasons. I can't think of any reason why I wouldn't take a fight like that. Other than being injured, if I’m healthy, in shape and ready to fight that day, it doesn't matter who they want me to fight. I'll fight, especially if I’m champ."
Despite being friends and occasional training partners with Sonnen, Henderson suggested that the matchup would have been a difficult one for the former middleweight No. 1 contender.
"With Chael, [he] hadn’t trained in 6-7 weeks," he said. "Chael might’ve done OK in the first round, maybe take Jon Jones down and then probably run out of gas pretty quickly."
Asked if he thought Jones would have won, Henderson wouldn't commit to that conclusion, but admitted that given the circumstances involved, Sonnen might have been fighting over his head.
"I didn’t think it was the smartest move at all for Chael to step up," he said. "Being out of shape, for Chael to take Jon Jones down would require probably a little more energy than to bounce around the cage and exchange punches with him. So I think he definitely would’ve needed a little bit more gas than sitting on the couch for six weeks would give him."
As far as his own personal situation, Henderson is apparently still capable of firsts. Unfortunately for him, that applies in ways that are not always meaningful for the right reasons. For example, his withdrawal was the first time he's ever had to do that in his 15-year career.
Henderson said that he suffered the MCL tear about three weeks ago while training. While defending a takedown, he twisted his body but his foot got stuck in a crease in the mat and didn't rotate. He heard his knee pop and said immediately thereafter, he suffered from instability.
Fearing the news would spread, Henderson said he kept the injury contained to his camp with the intention of going through with the fight.
"I was very optimistic," he said. "I was told the MCL heals real fast and should do fine. I had just under a month before the fight so I was pretty optimistic it would get better. I was told not to do anything to stretch it and make it feel unstable and it would heal up a lot faster. That's what I was trying to do. So I could move around on my feet. As long as I was moving forward and backward, it wasn't too bad."
But after resting the knee a bit, Henderson came to a point of no return. He had to test it out, and things did not go well. At that point, he contacted UFC president Dana White, who flew him into Las Vegas to get checked out by the promotion's doctors. The decision was unanimous that he shouldn't be fighting.
Henderson said until the end, he held out hope that he would be able to compete, as he's always been able to tough his way through injuries in the past. In this case though, after some time spent pondering the decision and the medical information he received, his correct course became obvious.
"I think it would be a decision I'd be regretting for a long time," he said. "I felt like I need to be 100 percent going in against somebody like Jones, or close to 100 percent. And I feel like the fans would like to see me at 100 percent as well."
Henderson is now wearing a brace and said he would be able to start light training in the next 4-6 weeks. If all goes well, he hopes to be at 100 percent in 3-4 months, and said he'd like to fight on the annual year-end show on Dec. 29.
By that time, the complexion of the division might have changed, as Jones will defend the belt against Vitor Belfort on Sept. 22, and several other bouts with top contenders will have occurred. Henderson says that wherever he stands, he'll be ready to compete
"Whatever I need to do, I just want to fight," he said. "I think myself and the fans would like to see me have that title fight, especially against Jon Jones, the fight everyone was kind of hoping to see. We’ll see what happens, but I just want to get back in there and fight. However it works out, that’s the way it goes."