All the talk going into the UFC 204 middleweight title main event between champion Michael Bisping and the legendary Dan Henderson focused on one thing: In order to win, Bisping would have to avoid Henderson's lethal right hand.
Turns out, Bisping didn't quite avoid it. But Henderson's best shots also weren't quite enough. In the final bout of his epic mixed martial arts career, Henderson came within a hair's breadth of taking the belt, but the 46-year-old came up just a little bit short.
After 25 minutes of compelling action, Bisping retained the title in front of his hometown fans at England's Manchester Arena. Bisping won a unanimous decision Saturday on a pair of 48-47 scores and a 49-46.
In the process, both Bisping avenged a memorable knockout loss to Henderson at UFC 100 and also set the UFC record for all-time victories with 20.
"This man is incredible," Bisping said of the retiring Henderson. "He just kicked my ass. All the trash talking, you gotta respect that guy, he's a legend."
Bisping (30-7) had the opening round well under control when Henderson landed his patent "H-bomb" right hand. Bisping crumpled to the mat and Henderson pounced, landing several elbows from top position and nearly finishing the fight before time ran out. The effects of the punch caused Bisping's left eye to swell shut.
In the second, incredibly, it happened again, as Henderson once again tagged him late after Bisping controlled the action and very likely stole the round.
In the third, Bisping made pivotal adjustments, adding head movement and making sure to get out of the pocket after his strikes before Henderson could counter. The fourth went much the same way, save for a lengthy time out due to a low Bisping kick that Henderson appeared to milk for all it was worth.
The fifth round was close, as Henderson emptied everything he had left in the tank, including a takedown in the middle of the round. Bisping regrouped, however, stuffed a later takedown attempt, and kept his composure the rest of the way.
After the bout, Henderson, one of the most decorated fighters in the sport's history, made his retirement official, addressing a crowd which stayed up until well after 5 a.m. local time to watch the main event.
"I appreciate all the support throughout the years, worldwide," Henderson said. "I gave my heart and soul to this sport, you made it worthwhile to keep competing year after year. I love this sport. I want to say thank you for the fans for making this happen, thank you for this opportunity, I came up a little short, not bad for an old man."
Henderson's career accolades include a UFC 17 tournament title, PRIDE simulatenous welterweight and middleweight championships, and the Strikeforce light heavyweight title. The former Olympic wrestler from Temecula, Calif. finishes with a record of 32-15.