With the UFC 173 card that is set to go off next month during Memorial Day weekend finally taking shape after many revisions, now we can marvel at the process. What was first supposed to be a middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort has morphed into a bantamweight title bout between TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao.
In a nutshell, the Nevada Athletic Commission abruptly banned use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy in February, which prompted Belfort -- publicly at least -- to back out of his fight with Weidman so that he could re-adjust his body compete without the use of TRT. Not long after Belfort was replaced with Lyoto Machida, Weidman opted to have surgery on his knees, which postponed the fight until July.
That all led to Dillashaw-Barao and, somewhat more paradoxically, a bout between 43-year old Dan Henderson and Daniel Cormier in the co-main. That fight is being loosely dubbed a light heavyweight title eliminator, though there are conditions to that since champion Jon Jones is next slated to face Alexander Gustafsson in a rematch sometime in the fall.
Henderson appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour to discuss the whirlwind matchmaking, as well as his come-from-behind knockout of Mauricio Rua on March 23 in Brazil. In that fight, Henderson was on the verge of being finished in the first round (and was still in survival mode throughout much of the second), before rallying for one of 2014’s most memorable knockouts in the third.
How hurt was he when Shogun was bringing the heat early?
"He definitely hurt me -- I think he hurt me more in that first round than the second round," Henderson told host Ariel Helwani." I was wanting to kind of be patient at the beginning of the fight and kind of pick my shots and make sure I won every round. And you know, I started a little too slow and I think at the end of that first round I went after him -- hurt him and went after him -- and just got caught with a couple of nice punches.
"That rung my bell quite a bit, so I’m just happy they let me keep fighting instead of stopping it a little too early when I was still moving and protecting myself. It’s just what happens sometimes in fighting. I try not to do that. I try not to get hit and hurt like that, but I don’t think it was my best performance at all, but definitely one of the best endings I’ve had."
Because he did take the punishment in the bout, Henderson said it took a little extra time for the NAC to conduct the tests to approve a fight between him and Cormier only two months later. Last week UFC president Dana White appeared on Sportscenter to break the news that it was signed and happening.
Henderson said he wasn’t expecting such a fast turnaround, but that the offer was simply too good to turn down.
"I was expecting to fight in July, but you know, just the way it happened for whatever reason they moved it up to May," he said. "It’s the quickest road back to that title shot, and no matter who I fight to get that title shot I’m going to have to fight those top guys. And that’s what DC is, so I’m going to have to beat him anyway. Better while I’m still in shape than having to start all over and get in shape again."
Another concern for Henderson -- just as it was for Belfort -- is the TRT ban. As a fighter who had previously been granted TRT therapeutic use exemptions in Nevada and elsewhere, he’ll have to face Cormier in Las Vegas without it.
Henderson said that was one of his chief concerns when the idea came up to fight Cormier on May 24.
"Obviously that was my concern, just I want to make sure I don’t test positive because they changed the rules and put me in a fight so quick," he said. "But everything’s running on track as far as [that] and they’re happy with the test results, so here we go."
Henderson last competed without TRT against Rashad Evans at UFC 161 in Winnipeg, a fight he lost via a very narrow split decision. When asked if it’ll affect him this time, he said he’s not overly worried.
"You know, it’s not a huge thing but it’s just I was taking advice from my doctors to be healthier and I felt better using the supplemental TRT they gave me, but it is what it is," he said. "I can’t change the rules. Unfortunately it went down this way instead of conquering the whole problem of all the drug problems, but yeah I think that they’re going to start trying to clean it up and have more random drug testing as well what I hear."
As for finding something that might help his body to adjust to proceeding with TRT, Henderson said he’s being cautious.
"There are some things out there, but even some natural supplements are banned as well, so it’s a matter of finding something that has everything that’s legal rather than everything but one thing," he said. "So I’m still looking into that. Obviously it was kind of a short turnaround, so it’s been kind of tough to figure that out right now."
Henderson was the final TRT exemption in Brazil for his fight with Rua. Even with the quick turnaround and having to adapt to the new rules on the fly, there’s still the question of having to fight Cormier, a friend of his whom he admires. Cormier has gone on record saying he hoped to avoid ever having to fight Henderson, but with circumstances changing around him, so did his preferences.
"Obviously I was hoping to not fight him as well," Henderson said of fighting Cormier. "I respect him and know that he’s a wrestler and he represents the sport really well, and I’m a fan of his. So, it’s never somebody you want to beat up in that way. But we all have the same goals and sometimes you have to compete against each other."
Asked how he planned to beat Cormier, who has been dominant through 14 fights of his career, Henderson was to the point.
"Punching him and outwrestling him," he said. "It’s a simple thing with him. He’s got a style similar to me and he’s a tough guy, but I feel like I’ve got more experience."