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Dan Henderson has seen a lot in his career, but never the exit sign that he liked

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Henderson was conceived in late 1969. There aren’t too many fighters on the UFC roster who can make that sort of claim. To put things in perspective, Henderson and Jim Morrison shared the planet for just a little while there in the early-1970s. That’s sort of mind-blowing when you consider that Jim is long dead (probably) and Henderson is alive and well and ready to trade punches with Vitor Belfort on Saturday night in Sao Paulo.

Henderson, of course, has the longest teeth of anybody in his division — or in any case, the oldest set of falsies. Astonishingly, he made it to age 43 without ever getting knocked out, even after having stood in there against Fedor, Rampage, Yvel, Wandy, assorted Nogs, et al. When he did get knocked out — against Belfort in 2013 — there was a novelty vibe to it. Belfort was clobbering everybody with a visa that year, and Henderson was one of those who "just got caught." Henderson chalked up the loss to something like the law of percentages.

Problem was, Henderson began getting nicked up with a bit more regularity in his dotage, especially when TRT was taken off the menu. Mauricio Rua was pounding him into a special kind of oblivion before Henderson dropped the "H-Bomb" in the third round and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

That gave Henderson new life. That chin, one of the sturdiest on record, could still take punches. But it was all growing a little uncomfortable. Henderson’s reflexes had slowed; age, with heavy feet on creaking floorboards, was catching up to him. Worse, the cruel undertones of what was actually happening to him in the cage were at odds with his version of events. Henderson, it quickly became clear, could downplay Hiroshima.

By the time he fought Daniel Cormier at UFC 173, though, it got a little scandalous. Cormier was a bull at large, just running roughshod through the streets of Pamplona, and Henderson — the lone runner with no place to hide — was being tossed from one side of the cage to the other like a man caught in a tumble dry cycle. He tapped out — somewhat mercifully for the spectator — in the third round.

That might have ended things, but Henderson wanted one more crack at it. He fought Gegard Mousasi in January and was on the sad end of a TKO, aided as it were by an eye-poke. Because of this, he wanted yet one more mulligan (at very least — nobody’s going to tell Hendo when to put back on his shoes!). He got it in the form of Tim Boetsch, a Hendo enthusiast who had the chance to put the legend out to pasture for good.

Instead, Henderson did what Henderson do. He obliterated Boetsch in 28 seconds with a vintage barrage of right hands out there in New Orleans. Hendo’s troll game, it turns out, is as legendary as his chin.

Which of course gave him new life (again). And that’s where we are today. Hendo’s a living record of all things mixed martial arts — a historic timeline all to himself. He’s an heirloom to the early dark days, and a rough-tinted wine country cowboy whose normal voice in 2015 has hardened into a friendly grumble. Sometimes he requires subtitles, but he’ll tell you about some things if you listen.

At nearly half-a-century old and nearing two decades as a professional prizefighter, Hendo’s seen and heard it all. At 45, he’s now a figure that’s distributed evenly between admiration and concern. One minute it’s awe, the next it’s eww. The drama of a Henderson fight isn’t so much that he’s "punching holes through" guys, as he likes to say. It’s that he’s a pillar against the sag of time. He’s simultaneously fending off takedown attempts and arthritis, which plays to two separate demos. Even his use of TRT belongs to a bygone day. Henderson’s now just a middle-aged dude in a young man’s game. Yet he’s still got that "H-Bomb," and he’s still willing to gamble on its effectiveness. Stubborn? Sure. Hendo is stubborn.

Stubborn enough to get hurt? Sure, sure. Stubborn enough to get hurt.

This all leads to Saturday’s fight with Belfort at UFC Fight Night 77. The Rubber Match at the Tar Pits…The Battle of the Geriasterisks…The Trilogy You Never Knew You Wanted (And Still Aren’t Real Sure You Do).

In other words, a unique main event.

Belfort gets home advantage, yet Henderson has a chance to do what Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping would pay for the privilege of doing…that is avenge an ugly loss from an ugly time. Should he do it — should he put Belfort into a deep sleep, like the cross-legged man he discovered oblivious to the world in his hotel room on Tuesday — this won’t likely be the last of Henderson, either.

No sir, this won’t be the end of Hendo. Twist in your seat if you want, but this is one defiant mofo we’re talking about, one who’s never been real into advice columns regarding his well being.