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Dan Henderson and 'Shogun' Rua Combine for 'Unbelievable' Fight at UFC 139

Dan Henderson and Shogun RuaDan HendersonUFC 139

. He never really stopped, actually, just like he never quit coming back from one near-knockout after another. That turned out to be a trait he and Henderson had in common during their seesaw main event bout.

The scorecards might have registered a unanimous decision win for Hendo once all five rounds were in the books, but the larger result was a fight that instantly earned a spot among the greatest bouts of all time.


president Dana White said afterward, adding "that was like our [Muhammad] Ali-[Joe] Frazier III. It was unbelievable."

And truly, it was. This time, at least, that's not just fight promoter hyperbole from White.


light heavyweight champ a taste of his own medicine with a punch combo that left Henderson struggling for survival.

So it went for the next three rounds. Henderson started each round strong, dropping Rua with one haymaker after another, only to have the Brazilian rise up and, blinking through the blood, mount a comeback in the second half of each round.

In the third, Rua seemed close to being stopped after Henderson knocked him down and then bounced his head off the mat with successive right hands. In fact, had referee Josh Rosenthal stepped in the wave it off there, it's unlikely that too many fight fans could have faulted him for it. But Rosenthal, who by that point had seen Rua battle back from one brain-rattling blow after another, gave the former UFC and Pride champion the benefit of the doubt, and it proved to be the right call.

By the fourth, Rua was all the way back in it, and appeared to have Henderson out on his feet at one point. By the fifth, he was camped out in full mount, raining down blows on Hendo as the 41-year-old Californian moved just enough to show he was still in it, and apparently enough to avoid a 10-8 round, which would have rendered the bout a draw.

When the judges' scorecards were read after a full 25 minutes of this brutal back-and-forth, Henderson could barely stand and Rua could barely see. All three judges gave Henderson the first three rounds and Rua the final two, resulting in a 48-47 score across the board for Hendo.

Not surprisingly, neither the winner nor the loser made it to the post-fight press conference. Both had an appointment at the hospital instead, but not before Henderson tweeted a picture of himself laid out on the locker room floor, requesting a title shot for his next fight.

"That guy could fight at [1]85 [pounds] or 205 [pounds] for the title," White concurred. "No doubt about it. I don't disagree."

In a video interview inside his locker room after the fight, Henderson said he thought the fight was "one or two shots away from being finished" at one point, but Rua had "tried to Rocky Balboa me, wore me out with his head."

As often as the comparison gets tossed around in combat sports, this was one fight that was not at all unlike a Rocky movie. The knockdowns, the comebacks, the almost unreasonable amount of physical damage sustained by each fighter -- if it was a film, it might have stretched the limits of believability.

This one was all real, and yet difficult to believe. Even both sets of cornermen, as they made their way out of the cage, seemed stunned and exhausted. Fans at cageside lingered, some with hands on their heads, still trying to comprehend what they'd just witnessed.

Was it the greatest MMA fight of all time, or simply one of the greatest? Was it number one, or just top three? That's an argument that will stretch on well past Saturday night, but after what Rua and Henderson accomplished together, there's simply no way you can have the conversation without them.