The last time Dan Henderson fought in Brazil was at something called the Brazil Open back in 1997. He beat Crezio de Souza in that fight, before going on to defeat Eric Smith with a guillotine choke in the "lightweight" finals. Those were the first baby steps towards a long and storied career for the one-time collegiate wrestler.
When Henderson returns to Brazil nearly two decades later to face Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 32 -- a rematch to their 2006 fight at the similarly numbered Pride 32 -- he expects things to be a little more relaxed. Henderson told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s MMA Hour that back when he visited Brazil in the day things got a little dicey.
"Obviously it was my first fight ever, but it was 17 years ago," he said. "It was definitely an interesting night. I thought I was going to get mobbed by the fans because the ref stopped the fight on a TKO, and they weren’t used to that back then. They kind of rushed the cage a little bit, and I wasn’t sure if they were going after me or the ref. But yeah, it was an interesting very first fight."
Henderson, who is coming off of narrow back-to-back decision losses to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, is on the last fight of his current UFC contract. After defeating Fedor Emelianenko under the Strikeforce banner, he restructured his contract as part of a new deal in the UFC. As the reigning Strikeforce champion, he won his first fight back in the Octagon at UFC 139 against Mauricio Rua, in a bout that ultimately won fight of the year honors.
He was supposed to face Jon Jones at UFC 151 for the light heavyweight belt, but an injury forced him out of the bout just a couple of weeks before it went down. The fallout was massive, as Jones didn’t want to fight a last-minute replacement option in Chael Sonnen thus forcing the UFC to cancel the PPV.
Now with a 1-2 record in his third stint in the UFC, Henderson realizes he'll need a good showing in the last fight on his current deal. But win or lose, the 43-year old made it clear he had no plans to ride off into the sunset.
"Yeah, I’m not planning on retiring and I’m not planning on going anywhere," he says. "Coming off of two losses in my last two fights, that doesn’t help for negotiating. So there’s a little more pressure on this fight, but I’m pretty sure this fight will be exciting regardless."
Asked if he thought the UFC would give him a contract even if he lost, Henderson felt confident they would.
"I think they will, but it might not be as great as a deal as I have now," he said.
Both Henderson and Belfort have both made waves in recent times for being on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Belfort, who has fought his last couple of bouts in Brazil where he knocked out Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, has caught the greater scrutiny for his usage. Many point to the fact that Belfort tested positive in 2006, incidentally in the Henderson bout back in Pride, as the reason.
On Monday, Henderson offered his views as to why Belfort receives more criticism for taking TRT.
"I think it all has to do with him not getting an exemption to fight outside of Brazil," he said. "Based on him testing positive before they won’t give him an exemption in the States."
Henderson said he wasn’t overly worried about what Belfort was up to in terms of TRT or otherwise. Heading into Saturday’s bout, he says that he’s been tested regularly about every two weeks to check his levels. In his last fight against Evans at UFC 161 in Winnipeg, the Manitoba commission didn’t allow Henderson a therapeutic use exemption.
Though he lost the bout, "Hendo" said he didn’t notice the difference. Therefore, when Belfort recently mentioned that he would go off of TRT if it meant a title shot, Henderson didn’t see anything overly remarkable in the statement. Even with the claims that once you’re on TRT that you’ll need it for the rest of your life.
"I don’t take that much, and I didn’t take it for the Canada fight my last fight, and I really didn’t notice a change," he said. "It wouldn’t matter that much to me whether I was on it or not, especially just for one fight. It’s a matter of being healthier, just as a lifestyle for me, and what the doctors prescribe to be healthier as a person. So it’s not anything that a few months is going to matter."