Being 43 years old, and having three straight losses, is usually not the best indication that continuing a fighting career is a good idea.
And there was little in the first two rounds of Dan Henderson's
rematch of one of the greatest fights in UFC history against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua that would indicate differently.
Henderson was dropped and nearly finished in the first. It was so close that just as the Fox Sports 1 feed cut to a commercial as referee Herb Dean was making a signal, viewers would have likely gotten the idea that the fight may have been over. In round two, Henderson looked slow and tired and was dropped a second time.
The come-from-behind victory, the key blow being a short right to the nose, now has people talking about Henderson (30-11) back in the mix with the game's top light heavyweights.
That speaks to two things.
The first is how much respect nearly everyone in the sport has for Henderson, whose photo should be put in the dictionary next to the term "hard-nosed fighter." The rabid crowd in Natal, Brazil, fiercely booing every foreign fighter who faced a Brazilian, seemed to have so much respect that they couldn't really bring themselves to do the same with Henderson even against a Brazilian fighting legend. Rua was of course the crowd favorite, but the loud negative reaction and the "You're gonna die," chants Brazilian crowds have made famous, weren't that evident even though this was fight they had paid to see.
In another show of respect, Henderson came into the fight ranked No. 8 in the light heavyweight division, even though it had been well over two years that he had his hand raised after his first war with Rua.
Henderson is the last surviving remnant of a different breed. When Henderson first competed in MMA in 1997, the mentality wasn't to become a champion at this sport. Henderson had competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics as a Greco-Roman wrestler. Like teammates Randy Couture
and Matt Lindland
, using wrestling skill and some rudimentary stand-up tools to defend themselves, was something they did to pick up extra cash to help fund their training for the 2000 Olympics.
Things changed, as extra cash turned into $250,000 for winning a 32-man tournament in Japan, and then, at 29, he failed to make the Olympic team. So he embarked on a full-time career in a sport that he will undoubtedly wind up as a Hall of Famer in.
The second is how badly we want to believe time isn't moving on, at least for that rare breed that is Dan Henderson.
In Hendo's last stand, against the man he had arguably his most legendary fight with, his surviving and winning, and then in the cage, giving the "thank you" speech would be the storybook ending of that career. But fighting legends rarely have storybook endings.
Instead, it's a never-ending game of "What's next?"
As Henderson gave living proof of Sunday, he has the power in his right hand to where, even slower and clearly tired, he has a puncher's chance in any fight. But there is also sadness in watching a legend in a fight reduced to nothing but a high-odds hope spot.
While not a major draw, Henderson remains valuable to the promotion because he is a name who fans will accept as a headliner. With it being harder to create new stars, and running more shows than ever, the value of existing stars has never been higher. Whether a match is relevant to the championship picture or not, Henderson brings with him a recognizable name, familiar face, and the emotional connection particularly with older fans, of a guy who exudes toughness, cannot be broken mentally, and is always one punch away from ending a fight.
It's because of all that, it brings up talk of a legends division, but that sounds like a better idea than it is in practice. MMA is not golf, tennis or bowling, where an older audience can comfortably watch familiar names compete on a fair level. It's not even the amount of training and conditioning the sport requires. It's the danger it entails, makes it one where the timing of ones departure is far more important.
But this is a guy who has been competing at a top level for more than a quarter century. The very mental toughness that made him Dan Henderson, made him survive the first and second rounds against a fighter who appeared to be physically superior, may be what will keep him from checking out.
Let's look at how the Fortunes changed for Five of the top stars of UFC Fight Night 38.
DAN HENDERSON -
There are a number of options for Henderson should he choose to continue fighting. But there is a reality check here. The idea of Henderson at this stage fighting Jon Jones
, Alexander Gustafsson or Daniel Cormier
is almost scary to think about. It's not that he doesn't have the power to hurt any of them with the right punch. But the speed and size difference is too pronounced. Yet, to make a title run, that's the caliber people he has to get past.
On the flip side, another option, perhaps the best for right now, would be Rich Franklin
. Franklin, 39, has indicated he's looking for one last fight. The two fought to a close split decision five years ago, which Henderson won. If it's Franklin's last fight, it has a hook. Someone like Wanderlei Silva
could also fit into that category. If that's not the direction, the best middle ground right now is Ryan Bader
(16-4), who dismantled Anthony Perosh
in his last outing. It's another fight that could headline a television show, and be a No. 2 or No. 3 fight on a pay-per-view.
MAURICIO "SHOGUN" RUA -
At 32, Rua isn't old in chronological years, but he's been through wars, and in losing, it's even harder to find a direction for him than Henderson. He's lost three of four. To remain with any shot at relevancy or even staying stationary in positioning, he's going to have to move to middleweight. But that may only be a temporary jump start, because middleweight has far more depth than light heavyweight. The move did wonders for Lyoto Machida
, who Rua beat once on paper and twice in reality. But even though Machida is older, he's never taken the punishment both in fights and in training that Rua has, and was still top tier in his former weight class when he made the move.
C.B. DOLLAWAY -
Of the members of the mid-00s Arizona State wrestling team that went into MMA, Dollaway, Bader, Cain Velasquez
and John Moraga
, Dollaway has been the one who never broke through into the top ten.
Back in 2011, after a loss to unheralded Jared Hamman
, he seemed like an All-American wrestler who would never rise above mid-level. While his record doesn't show four wins in a row, most view his UFC 166
split decision loss to Tim Boetsch
, as a true win. With a 39-second knockout of Cezar "Mutante" Ferreira, his fortunes look to have turned completely around.
Timing wise, what appears to be a solid match-up would be England's Luke Barnatt
(8-0), who is coming off his own first-round knockout of Matts Nilsson two weeks ago in London.The timing of both men having fought in the same month, and that neither took no serious damage, makes sense. And it's a fight that should propel the winner into a name bout.
JUSSIER FORMIGA -
Coming into the fight ranked No. 7 at flyweight, Formiga had his most impressive UFC showing to date by choking out former bantamweight title contender Scott Jorgensen
in just 3:07.
Formiga was brought into UFC at 14-1, as one of the top flyweights in the world, for a title eliminator against John Dodson
. But he lost that via second-round TKO, and didn't get out of the first round with Joseph Benavidez
Formiga has several potential opponents in a division where nobody has kicked the door down as the top contender. Among them are former Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky
(18-4), Ali Bagautinov
(13-2), Brad Pickett
(24-8), Ian McCall
(12-4-1) and Moraga (14-2). The former two have the strongest case for a title shot at Demetrious Johnson
right now. Formiga should be in the pack with the others, who should all face each other in some fashion to create more of a pecking order.
MICHEL PRAZERES -
Prazeres had come into the UFC with a 16-0 record as a welterweight, but lost his first fight, via decision, to Paulo Thiago
. Moving to lightweight, he's a powerhouse. There are physical similarities to Gleison Tibau
, a mid-card fixture in UFC for years. Both are strong on the ground, short for the weight class, densely muscled, and go into the cage as lightweights looking like they are in the 180s.
Prazeres, who moved his record to 18-1, dominated Mairbek Taisumov
, via lopsided 30-25 scores. The scores were due to a couple of penalty points taken away in that fight, but those played no part in the end result. He showed power in his takedowns, good movement on the ground, and did well in the stand-up.
But he was rocked at times with punches and someone with his body type is going to be prone to fatigue in the third round.