After pitching a shutout in a masterful performance against Nate Diaz on Saturday night at UFC on FOX 5, there's talk that Henderson should be considered for 2012 Fighter of the Year.
Yes, the MMA business really can be that fickle.
But the notion of Henderson as Fighter of the Year is worthy of consideration. Who else would you consider for the award in this topsy-turvy year? Take a look at the list of current UFC champions: Junior dos Santos will fight for just the second time this year on Dec. 29. Jon Jones, you know all about the year he's had. Anderson Silva's two fights have been a rematch against a guy he previously defeated in Chael Sonnen and a journeyman light heavyweight in Stephan Bonnar. Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo Jr. have both fought once. Dominick Cruz has been out all year. Interim bantamweight champ Renan Barao belongs in the discussion, but his caliber of competition doesn't match Henderson. Demetrious Johnson's case isn't helped by his first fight with Ian McCall.
This leaves us with Henderson, the only man to compete in three UFC title fights in 2012. Henderson still doesn't have the star power or the passionate fan base that many of the above fighters boast. He's simply developed into one of the sport's most cerebral and well-rounded champions, one fight at a time.
Saturday night was as sharp as "Smooth" has ever looked. His persistent low kicks kept Diaz from ever getting his boxing on track. He was magnificent in using his size advantage to wear down Diaz in the clinch. When the fighters hit the ground, Henderson was brilliant in staying out of range from Diaz's submissions while also managing to dish out considerable punishment. Even during his rare dicey moments, like when Diaz grabbed Henderson's leg in the third round and locked it tight, the champion utilized his legendary patience under pressure and worked his way out of the jam.
All this added up to Henderson's sixth straight win and a 3-0 record in 2012 UFC title fights which no one else is going to match. if it wasn't for the infamous "Showtime kick" in his final WEC bout with Anthony Pettis (which likely gave Pettis the nod in a bout that was a coin flip right down to the final seconds; Pettis got 48-47 scores on two cards), that six-fight win streak would be 17 victories going back five years.
"I heard a little bit of talk about these guys thinking I was going to lose, and Nate was better than me," Henderson told Fuel TV. "You're entitled to your opinion, you can think whatever you want to think."
With a performance like the one Henderson had Saturday night, you can't blame him for throwing some attitude back at his detractors.
UFC on FOX 5 Quotes
"There's a guy who humiliated me a couple years ago and I want revenge. Carlos Condit, let's do it in March, my home territory. I want to get my revenge." -- Rory MacDonald leaves no doubt who he'd like to fight next.
"I have so much respect for B.J. I always have, even through the good times and bad times. I‘d like to see him retire. He's got plenty of money, he's got a great family that loves him, he's got babies, a beautiful wife ... He has nothing left to prove to anybody, and everybody loves him. You heard the arena here tonight. I'd like to see B.J. retire." -- Dana White, on B.J. Penn.
Gotta strike when the iron is hot boxing! Lost manny/Floyd 4ever. #gspvssilva #silvavsbones #superfights! -- Lorenzo Fertitta's Twitter reaction to Juan Manuel Marquez's knockout victory over Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night.
Good Call: Scott Jorgensen's win
"Fight until the final horn" is as basic an axiom as "protect yourself at all times." Veteran Scott Jorgensen showed why in the opening bout of UFC on FOX 5. The 30-year-old fighter from Boise showed great heart simply in position to win his fight against hometown favorite John Albert, as he survived a tight triangle attempt midway through the round. Jorgensen could have simply coasted through the round's final seconds and regrouped for round two.
Instead, right around the time of the 10-second warning, he dug in a rear-naked choke and pulled for all it was worth, then got the tap in the final second of the round. Not only should this fight be used as an example of why you should never let up until the final horn, but it's also a lesson on how you can reap the rewards for such efforts, as Jorgensen netted an extra $130,000 for winning both Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night.
And how about a nod for referee Herb Dean, too? The tap was close enough to the horn that the Twitterverse was waiting to pounce on him. But the replay confirmed the submission came a split second before the end, like a basketball player letting go of his game-winning shot shot just before the buzzer. There's a reason they call Dean the best in the business.
Bad Call: Rory MacDonald's taunting of B.J. Penn
Rory MacDonald had a golden opportunity to make himself a superstar on Saturday. Fighting a legend of the sport live on network television is a setup tailor-made for creating new headliners. Instead, while there's no doubt MacDonald was impressive in the cage in his dominant win over B.J. Penn, he came off as undeniably talented, but arrogant and disrespectful. Maybe that's worked for Nick Diaz, but you don't expect it from a fighter with ties to a gym as classy as Tri-Star. Would Tri-Star's most famous fighter, St-Pierre, have gone out of his way to taunt and disrespect Penn during their fights? You know the answer to that. There's no denying MacDonald is an up-and-coming star, but he's still got a few lessons to learn from his campmate which have nothing to do with fighting technique.
Stock Up: Pick ‘em
There are so many fighters who looked good on Saturday that I'm going to do a roll call here, rather than single out one: Jorgensen, for all the reasons listed above. Abel Trujillo, who announced his presence in the lightweight division by tenderizing Marcus LaVesseur's ribs with his knees. Dennis Siver, for looking like a 145-pound version of a pre-Diverticulitis Brock Lesnar in his win over Nam Phan. Daron Cruickshank, who answered the question "What exactly is a Detroit Superstar?" with his nasty knockout of Henry Martinez (And to Martinez, for earning his Joey Beltran/Fabio Maldonado "never surrender" cred in defeat). Yves Edwards, for delivering Jeremy Stephens some frontier justice. Matt Brown, who deserves more recognition than he's gotten for a 4-0 year in 2012. Alexander Gustafsson, for showing he's a legitimate contender at 205. And Henderson, as we've already discussed.
Stock Down: B.J. Penn and Mauricio Rua
I take absolutely no enjoyment at all in writing this one. We're talking about two of the most popular fighters in mixed martial arts history. Two guys who gave their heart and soul to fighting, two who are personally responsible for making new fans of the sport the world over, two whose legacies are forever secure. But Saturday night, both served as reminder who how swift and brutal the fall from grace can be in this sport.
In Penn's case, the final of many "what ifs" in the future UFC Hall of Famer's career will be "what if he never went back to welterweight?" Granted, Penn was on the decline anyway, but it's hard to believe he wouldn't have been more competitive the past couple years fighting guys his own size. Instead, he ended up with a fight like last night's, where his skills were several steps behind his legendary fighting spirit.
Rua, meanwhile, isn't as near the end as Penn. There's no shame in losing to a horse like Gustafsson. I felt "Shogun" won a close first round. His game plan of going in an neutralizing Gustafsson's reach advantage was probably has best path to victory.
But Rua has been through one slugfest after another over the years. When it took Rua four rounds to put away Brandon Vera in August, you could chalk it up to a motivated Vera wanting to silence the detractors who felt he was a quitter. But in fighting a competitive first round and then fading over the last two against Gustafsson, Rua has demonstrated his days as an elite title contender are likely done.
Fights I Want to See Next: Lyoto Machida vs. Alexander Gustafsson and Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald
Gustafsson no doubt announced with his victory Saturday night that he's on the short list of contenders for the light heavyweight title. But he's not the undisputed No. 1 as long as Lyoto Machida is still in the mix. A fight between the two would clear up the matter. With word coming from Dana White that Dan Henderson's knee still doesn't look like it's ready for a proposed Feb. 23 date with Machida (Henderson himself disputes this), and with Gustafsson indicating he's OK with taking another fight if it keeps him busy, Machida vs. Gustafsson seems a natural fight to make.
At welterweight, meanwhile, Carlos Condit is the fighter aside from St-Pierre that everyone wants to face. It seems like every match you could make for Condit against a top-tier 170-pounder is appealing, from Johny Hendricks to a Martin Kampmann rematch. Maybe Condit feels he has bigger fish to fry than a rematch with a fighter he's already beaten in MacDonald. But their 2010 fight was a barnburner, and both guys have improved by leaps and bounds since. And hey, "The Natural Born Killer" vs. "The Serial Killer" has a nice ring to it. There are plenty of other good fights for both guys, but you have to admit Condit vs. MacDonald would be fun.