Sometimes even legends need a little validation. When Dan Henderson headed into his UFC Fight Night 68 bout earlier this month against Tim Boetsch, he did so as a loser of five of his previous six fights, including an ominous 70-second loss to Gegard Mousasi this past January which set a new mark as the shortest loss of Henderson's career.
At 44 years old, the calls for Henderson's retirement were growing louder and clearer going into the Boetsch fight. But it was nothing a little 28-second knockout couldn't fix. Henderson blasted Boetsch with his patented H-bomb in the opening stages of the fight, and just like that, ‘Hendo' found himself back in the proverbial mix of top UFC middleweights.
"It was very gratifying," Henderson said Monday on The MMA Hour. "(It was) kind of something to prove to myself as well as fans or anyone else who had doubt that I'm still able to compete with the top guys in the sport, you know? I know that Tim Boetsch wasn't ranked as high as some other guys that I've fought, but he's dangerous and I don't think he's been stopped like that before, so it's nice to finish him like that."
Boetsch had never before been stopped by strikes as a middleweight, but the dynamite in Henderson's right hand continues to defy Father Time.
With the win, Henderson's name has now propelled back into the top-15 of the UFC's media-generated middleweight rankings -- an impressive feat considering the American has been going strong in this game for nearly two decades and counting.
"My age is getting up there, and I know that I've had to change certain things with training, just to make sure I'm still doing the right things with training, with learning," Henderson said.
"I've been in this sport a long time, and this sport is based on your last performance. It's what most people remember, and I haven't had the best of luck with fights and the best of outcomes the last couple years. So I understand where they're coming from (when people call for my retirement). It wasn't like I wasn't expecting that. At the same time, I know what I'm capable of doing and I believe in myself, so that's the biggest thing."
With a career that spans all the back to 1997, Henderson is one of the few remaining stalwarts from MMA's dark days. He's effectively done it all -- he won an early UFC tournament, then beat out a stacked field to take gold in Rings' 1999 King of Kings tourney. He captured two simultaneous titles in Pride FC, then stole away the Strikeforce light heavyweight title.
Through it all, Henderson has experienced firsthand the growth of mixed martial arts from the NHB era to the ultra-commercialized sport of the present day. And when it comes down to MMA's two biggest evolutions of late -- the UFC's new increased drug testing regulations and its sponsorship deal with Reebok -- Henderson is torn about the direction the sport is headed.
"I'm absolutely in favor of the drug testing," he said. "It's something you know I've been wanting or asking for years. It's good that it's finally here, that it's happening on some level. I'm undecided about the Reebok deal as of yet. I don't think it's quite the best model that they could've come up with as far as the pay structure goes on that. Most of the fighters will be taking a pay cut to wear Reebok."
Regardless, it may not soon matter for Henderson.
The old warhorse has two fights remaining on his current UFC contract. He plans to fulfill both of them, that much he's made clear. But after that, it's anyone's best guess whether Henderson will finally decide to put aside his gloves for good.
"I still have the same thoughts," Henderson said. "It could possibly be. ... We'll see. It's just a matter of how things play out and, you know, what kind of job opportunities I have afterwards. Obviously I want to still stay in the sport and help build the sport even more than what it's become and still coach, so we'll see.
"I really haven't given it detailed thought, but obviously it's something I need to speak with the UFC about, see what we can come up with when I do decide to retire."