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Dan Henderson: 'Holding Firm,' but Confident UFC Deal Can Get Done

CHICAGO -- Dan Henderson has leverage, and he intends to use it.

Henderson, the 39-year-old mixed martial arts star who spent most of his career fighting in Japan, has never been more marketable in the United States than he is right now. Early this year he established himself with the casual fans who never saw him fight in Pride by coaching on Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter, and in July he delivered the single biggest highlight at the UFC's most successful pay-per-view show ever when he knocked out Michael Bisping.

Now Henderson is a free agent, and the UFC badly wants him to agree to a new contract to fight Nate Marquardt at UFC 105 in nine weeks. On Friday Henderson told me that if the UFC is going to get him in the Octagon with Marquardt, the promotion will need to meet his salary demands.

"I'm holding firm for what I think I deserve," Henderson said. "I think I've earned that."

What he thinks he deserves is more money than the $350,000 he made for beating Bisping, a salary that consisted of $100,000 to show, a $150,000 win bonus and a $100,000 Knockout of the Night Bonus.

Henderson's strong desire is to get a rematch with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who defeated him -- and ended his reign as the Pride champ -- in March of 2008. But he wouldn't rule out fighting Marquardt on November 14, if that's what it takes to get another crack at Silva.

"If they sign me I'll fight who they want me to fight," Henderson said. "Even if I get Silva now, after I beat him Marquardt would be the top contender, so I'd have to fight him next. Beat him now or beat him later, it doesn't matter. I'll have to fight Marquardt eventually."

Still, Henderson doesn't particularly like the idea of having to fight Marquardt. He thought he earned a shot at Silva when he beat Bisping, and he doesn't consider a fight between himself and Marquardt to be smart matchmaking.

"If I was the UFC I wouldn't waste a fight between us," Henderson said. "If they want challengers for the middleweight belt they shouldn't want one of us to beat the other."

Henderson was clearly annoyed at what he perceives as Silva ducking a rematch. There have been conflicting reports about whether Silva will be ready to fight again this year or whether he needs time off to recover from injuries, and Silva has even suggested that he could leave the middleweight division entirely. Henderson says that if Silva permanently moves up to light heavyweight, he'll gladly move up to 205 pounds and fight Silva at that weight. But one way or another, Henderson wants Silva.

"It all depends on Anderson Silva," Henderson said. "If he's not going to fight until April, I don't want to wait that long. But I'll do what I have to do to fight him."

I pointed out to Henderson that the first round of his fight with Silva was the best round any opponent has had against Silva in the UFC. But Henderson wasn't having any of that. He thinks he would have beaten Silva if he had fought his best fight, and he won't rest until he gets a chance to prove he's better than Silva, who's widely regarded as the UFC's best fighter.

"I didn't feel like I fought well when we fought before," Henderson said. "I didn't do everything I could have done in the first round. My body was feeling drained and worn out."

Henderson said he hasn't talked to rival promotion Strikeforce, and he wants to use his leverage to get a good deal with the UFC -- not to get a good deal outside the UFC. He's confident enough that the UFC will give him that good deal that he said he's going to begin training hard on Monday, with the idea that he'll probably be in the Octagon some time later this year.

"I'm getting in shape like I'm going to fight," Henderson said. "I want to stay in the UFC."

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