Dan Henderson on UFC light heavyweight title situation: 'That's the way it goes'

Esther Lin

BURBANK, Calif. -- After everything that went down, nothing bugged Dan Henderson more than the mere fact he had to pull out of a fight.

The 42-year old Henderson had no idea all hell was going to break loose last August when he picked up the phone and told UFC president Dana White that his knee injury would force him out of his planned UFC 151 shot at Jon Jones' light heavyweight title.

But for all that happens afterwards -- from Zuffa's unprecedented event cancellation, to White's tirade against Jones, to the UFC granting middleweight Chael Sonnen a shot at Jones' title in April -- it was the simple act of withdrawing from a match that galled Henderson the most.

"It was the first time I've ever had to pull out of a fight in 15 years," said Henderson, who is the only man to simultaneously hold two weight-class titles in a major organization. "So, yeah, it sucked."

It's that old wrestler's mentality, the one which pushed him all the way to the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic team: You go on with the show no matter what. So when the Southern California native injured his knee about three weeks before the planned fight with Jones, he hoped against hope he'd be able to go.

"I was still thinking I was maybe going to be able to go out there and go on, but I hadn't tested [his knee] in a couple weeks," Henderson said. "Because everyone, my doctors and physical therapists and everyone told me that heals fast, and you should be able to be good. I stayed off it for 2-3 weeks just doing cross training and really not doing much, and you know, I had to test it out and pretty much everyone in my camp was telling me ‘don't do it.' I still wanted to, obviously."

According to Henderson, neither White nor anyone in the UFC front office have guilt-tripped him about having to pull out of the fight.

"He never said a word to me, he was extremely understanding of what happened," Henderson said. "He obviously had been there before with other fights that had to be canceled, but at the time, this was a week before the fight, this was the worst thing that could happen and at the time I had no idea he was thinking of canceling the fight."

Henderson's last fight was his Nov. 19, 2011 win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, which many consider that year's Fight of the Year. After all the drama of the past 15 months, he finally returns to action on Feb. 23 at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif., when he meets Lyoto Machida in a co-main event bout.

"I'm glad I only have to fight him for three rounds, not five," said Henderson. "There's no secrets to what Machida does. The game plan's to go in there and get the knockout, not let it go to the judges."

At this stage of the game, Henderson doesn't know if he'll ever get another chance to fight for a championship, especially with title shots being handed out on a regular basis to fighters who haven't been working their way through a division.

Maybe Henderson, the former PRIDE 183 and 205-pound champion and Strikeforce light heavyweight champ, saw his last title opportunity slip away when he had to pull out of the Jones fight. Maybe not. The way Henderson sees it, all he can do it this point is let the chips fall where they may.

"I was a little bummed that I didn't have that opportunity [to fight Jones] again, but I think I was more confused that with everybody else," Henderson said. "I was wondering why Chael got the shot. I would have been okay with anyone who was a contender getting the shot but I was not expecting that. ... I'm done in a couple years. You know, that's obviously something, but I don't plan on losing any fights from now on. I just want to make sure I beat everybody, and eventually, if a title fight, eventually, it should happen, if not, then, that's the way it goes."

And besides, while another championship would be nice, Henderson knows he'll always be remembered for something in this sport. The fans have never let him forget how much they enjoyed his memorable knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100.

"Not a day goes by where someone doesn't thank me for the Bisping knockout," said Henderson. "I've never had any other opponent I ever fought where people were like ‘please beat him up' and ‘please shut this guy up.' Usually they compliment me for something I did, not because the other guy is an a------."

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