MMA ethicists don’t like the idea of Dan Henderson, who turns 44 years old in August, fighting Daniel Cormier, the one-time alternate from the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix. Some were concerned about Cormier's upward mobility as he tries to position himself in front of Jon Jones. Turns out that particular worry is moot, because now the UFC is saying that if he beats Henderson at UFC 175 -- unlike when he beat that barista -- he'll be next next for Jones (after Glover Teixeira and [probably] Alexander Gustafsson).
But the bigger concerns seem to be about Henderson, that arthritic adventure-seeker, who is on a kamikaze mission if there ever was one.
From the sound of it, Henderson is better suited for the glue factory than a cage fight with Cormier, and what the UFC is doing to this Elder of So Many Wars is borderline criminal. Do we really need to see a public sacrifice? He can't even show up with the youth-giving TRT in Nevada, where the fight is to take place in July...Hendo is a Trans Am going up against an AMX Leclerc! He will get smashed in a fight with Cormier! Smashed! The UFC hates Dan Henderson! Help!
And so on.
These types of concerns became epidemic on Twitter within minutes of the news that this fight was being made. A week earlier, when it was reported that the UFC was looking at Cormier against Rafael Cavalcante, it was merely left-field matchmaking that made little sense. When it was Hendo, who by the way smashed "Feijao" to win the Strikeforce 205-pound title in 2011, it became fight game euthanasia.
Interesting, because here’s the thing -- Dan Henderson just turned Mauricio Rua’s face into a Picasso, in muggy 90 degree weather, in Rua’s native Brazil. It's true that for ten minutes he was flailing around in the deep water getting lit up, rattled, rocked, picked apart and battered -- a bit "dinged up," as Henderson later described it -- but he survived and knocked Shogun out. He took some lumps, but he won spectacularly.
Winning, particularly in a dig-deep situation like that, still counts no matter what age you are.
The concerns for Henderson’s ultimate well being seem to be a parlay, though, going back to him getting knocked out by Vitor Belfort in November. That, too, was epidemic in 2013. Everybody got knocked out by Vitor Belfort. Besides, there should be a little leeway in the matter since it was the first time in 40 pro MMA fights that Henderson had been finished via KO.
And, realistically, the times aren't that different from when we tended to shade Henderson more towards viable than vulnerable.
Remember, the last time he and Rua fought, back at UFC 139, the then 41-year old Henderson was nicked up pretty good too. And yet back then we were grooming him for his shot at Jon Jones without all the cringing and guilt. Before that fight he and Fedor Emelianenko engaged in a center-cage gunfight in a heavyweight battle. Henderson got his arm raised after that reckless affair. Watch the tape. Even then he waded into punches like a man who’d just opened the door to a blowing snowstorm. Not much has changed.
Henderson versus Cormier is fine. The panel of media voters who make up the UFC’s official rankings has Cormier No. 5 and Henderson No. 6. That’s paper parity. Even if the thing seems like a landslide victory for Cormier, who has speed and size and (relative) youth -- and no budge whatsoever -- there’s justification in the rung system.
And it’s fine in other ways, too.
Henderson hasn’t been proven too old, too defenseless, too diminished to give Cormier his biggest challenge to date. Imagine if he had been on the winning side of the coin-flip split decision losses against Lyoto Machida and/or Rashad Evans. That would make the Belfort fight seem more like a "got caught" situation, and the second Rua fight feel like "classic Hendo." He stood in with Evans well in Winnipeg sans TRT, and Evans was slated to fight Cormier at UFC 170 to vast intrigue before he tore his ACL and was replaced by woodwork fighter Patrick Cummins.
Henderson-Cormier should be no different.
The truth is, Henderson does have a lot of miles, a stiff neck and a fleeting sense of self-preservation. He will be without TRT in Las Vegas when he fights the undefeated Cormier. He will be a big underdog. He could get taken down and pounded on to within inches of his ghost. There’s no earthly reason he should win at his age against a beast like Cormier who only fled the heavyweight division because he didn’t want to fight his friend, Cain Velasquez.
You know what though? Henderson’s made it this far on wile, default wrestling and H-bombs. His chin, the thing we’re worried about, has been impossibly durable. Even if he’s delusional in his quest to become a UFC champion in the twilight/afterhours of his career (and here he is a win away from getting the chance), nobody has definitively made the case that he can’t.
Maybe Cormier is that guy. It feels like he might be. But Henderson has done a good job of holding his own for a lot of years. He's a big boy. And if he’s not afraid of such doses of reality, then maybe we shouldn't be, either.