Dan Henderson was adamant Saturday night that he had finished his Hall of Fame career.
In doing so, he fell just shy of the only major goal that had eluded him - a UFC championship.
As with every close fight, there was some controversy regarding the decision, particularly when in the battle of "Who would you have rather been when it was over," Henderson took a one-sided decision.
UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping was a mess, having been knocked down twice, nearly finished once, his face rearranged, and with a huge swelling underneath his left eye. Henderson was almost unmarked when it was over. But Bisping took the unanimous decision at the Manchester Arena, essentially his home court.
It's easy to cry hometown decision under the circumstances. Easy, but not accurate.
Based on how MMA bouts are scored, the fight came down to three rounds, the first, the second and the fifth. Rounds three and four went to Bisping by 10-9 scores with little controversy, although the significant strikes in Round 4 were close.
Round one was a clear Henderson round, as Henderson landed his last devastating "H-bomb," leaving Bisping in a lot of trouble. Bisping survived the round , but that's all he did. Up until the late round knockdown, Bisping was winning the round, which may have been why judges Andreas Gruner, Jeff Mullen and Andy Roberts all gave Henderson a 10-9 round. Had either Gruner or Mullen gone 10-8, they'd have had a draw scorecard.
Gruner and Mullen gave round two to Henderson. Bisping was in control almost the entire round, but Henderson decked him with a right late.
Round five, with the fight on the line, was close. Bisping had a 22-16 edge in strikes landed , and all three judges gave him the round. On cards that had Henderson winning, this would have been the key round. None of the strikes were so significant or so deadly that they would overcome the Bisping numbers advantage like the round two knockdown did. But it was a close round, and Henderson did get the fight's only takedown. Bisping got up quickly without sustaining significant damage.
Based on media scores from MMADecisions.com, 61 percent had it for Bisping, 22 percent had it for Henderson and 17 percent had it a draw, which was the way I saw it, with a 10-8 first for Henderson, Henderson taking round two and Bisping taking three through five.
But every score from 48-46 for Henderson to 49-46 for Bisping could be easily argued.
While he didn't leave the sport with the championship, Henderson finished his career with a Fight of the Night and a championship-caliber performance. This came after being written off by most as a top contender. It wasn't the emotional ending that his prior fight, closer to home, with his family in the cage when it was over, brought him. Both men appeared to be in their best shape in years. Henderson, at 46, showed his mental toughness hanging in while clearly tired. Bisping showed championship mettle by surviving round one, which most fighters after being tagged the way they were, would not have.
With the exception of Fedor Emelianenko, who never fought in UFC, Henderson could be strongly argued to be the greatest MMA fighter who never held a UFC championship. Henderson did win a UFC tournament in 1999. It was one of four such tournament wins in his career including a Brazilian Open tournament in 1997, a 32-man open weight RINGS tournament in Japan in 2000 and the Pride welterweight (today's middleweight division) championship tournament in 2005. No fighter has won four tournaments with anywhere near that level of competition. With tournaments becoming less and less, it's very likely none ever will.
Henderson's longevity as a major player is also unmatched by anyone other than Vitor Belfort. His holding championships in two weight divisions at the same time at the major league level is also something nobody else has done, with Conor McGregor battling to become the second next month. He was the oldest UFC championship contender, and came close to being its oldest-ever champion, which would have been a record extremely difficult to beat.
Bisping, a star with the promotion from the start of his career in 2006 after winning the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, set one of the most important records of them all with his 20th win in UFC competition. He had previously shared the record of 19 wins with Georges St-Pierre. His 27 career UFC fights ties the record held by Frank Mir and Tito Ortiz, a record he's a lock to get soon. His five hours, 48 minute and 20 seconds of total Octagon fight team is the second in UFC history, surpassing St-Pierre on Saturday. He's being behind only Frankie Edgar at six hours, two minutes and 1 seconds.
Lets look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday's show.
MICHAEL BISPING - Bisping's improbable middleweight title journey continues, but he'll likely be an underdog in every championship fight going forward.
There are two key fights coming up in November in the division, the Chris Weidman (11-2) vs. Yoel Romero (11-1) fight in Madison Square Garden on Nov 12, and the Luke Rockhold (15-3) vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (23-4, 1 no-contest) fight on Nov. 27 in Melbourne, Australia..
One of the two winners, depending on impressiveness, health and marketability, would likely get the next title fight. Bisping has said he won't defend against Romero, feeling he's a drug cheat, and would most want to defend against Weidman. He's already fought Rockhold twice, with them splitting wins. But for now it has too be a waiting game.
GEGARD MOUSASI - With a win over Vitor Belfort, Mousasi (40-6-2) has to be considered the best of the contenders behind Bisping and the big four. He also has to be in a waiting pattern. He would also be best served waiting until the two November fights are over. His best plan would be to face the winner of the fight that isn't facing Bisping for the championship, since that would put him in a clear title eliminator.
If the other winner wants to sit and wait, feeling they already have a title shot set up, Mousasi should face the winner of a Nov. 27 fight with Derek Brunson (16-3) vs. Robert Whittaker (16-4).
JIMI MANUWA - Manuwa (16-2), after taking out Ovince Saint Preux (19-9) in the second round, would seem to have limited options. He could face Alexander Gustafsson (17-4), who knocked him out in 2014. If Jon Jones is cleared and is put in a position where he has to get a win before getting the title shot, then Manuwa and Gustafsson would seem to be the best opponents. But if Jones isn't getting a title match, Gustafsson, based on the first Jones vs. Gustafsson fight, would be the obvious one to make.
Manuwa facing Glover Teixeira makes no sense, in the sense it could knock Manuwa out the position as a contender, while Teixeira's losses would keep him still tough to market him right now as a contender. But there aren't a lot of other options, with the best for now looking like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (24-10) and Corey Anderson (8-2). But at 36, he needs to make that move.
STEFAN STRUVE - At the age of 28, Struve (32-8) is the youngest name heavyweight in a rapidly aging out division.
When you look at the size of Struve, who is 6-foot-11 1/2 and cuts from the mid 280s to make weight at 265, combined with ground skill that nobody of his height has ever showed in MMA competition, the visual is of a fighter who should beat everyone. But Struve still doesn't use his size to his best advantage standing. And while he does have a 2012 win over current champion Stipe Miocic, he's only 3-3 since that fight.
Josh Barnett (35-8), Andrei Arlovski (25-13) and Travis Browne (18-5-1) would be the best next foe for him.