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UFC 204 Aftermath: Dan Henderson goes out on his own terms

Esther Lin photo

Dan Henderson's list of mixed martial arts accomplishments reads like a history of the sport itself.

There was his one-night tournament victory at UFC 17. His Ring King of Kings tournament win. His PRIDE dual weight-class titles. His memorable role on The Ultimate Fighter and in UFC 100. His Strikeforce days, with a light heavyweight title and a heavyweight victory over Fedor Emelianenko. His final run in the UFC, which included everything from his all-time classic with Shogun Rua and all the way up to Saturday night in Manchester, England.

And yes, his usage of testosterone replacement therapy is part of his story, too.

Even with a resume few can match, though, the 46-year-old Henderson didn't always get what he wanted. The future Hall of Famer didn't medal in wrestling at the 1992 or 1996 Olympics, lost in the 2006 PRIDE welterweight grand prix, and came up short in multiple quests to win UFC gold.

But that's what makes Henderson such a unique and appealing figure. Win or lose, Dan Henderson was always aiming for the top. Never backing down from a challenge. Ignoring the people who told him to retire. In a sport which in 2016 is as much about posturing and bluster as the actual action in the cage, Hendo just went out and did it.

So in its own way -- taking Henderson at his word that he's really retiring once and for all, and that we won't find ourselves watching him fight Ken Shamrock in Bellator in 2020 -- it's sort of fitting that one of the legends of the sport went out as he did at UFC 204, coming up just a bit short in his rematch with UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping.

Going in, everyone paid lip service to the notion Henderson could win, as long as he landed one of his patented H-bombs. We all, after all, saw what he did to Hector Lombard just a few months ago.

But most of us would be lying if we said we saw the fight going down the way it did. Bisping played the mongoose to Hendo's cobra, and we all spent a half hour mesmerized, waiting to see when Hendo would strike.

Henderson landed the big right not just once, but twice. Bisping, who had famously felt the sting of his right hand before, played it cautious, darting in and out and trying to minimize his time in the pocket. Henderson seeming to run out of gas, only to dig down deep and find another level. In the fifth, he gave everything he had left, including an attempted cartwheel kick in the closing seconds.

Henderson went out in a blaze of glory even though he went out in defeat. That's not an easy feat. But then, Dan Henderson's always been one to buck conventional wisdom. Enjoy your retirement, champ.

UFC 204 quotes

"Dan Henderson is an absolute warrior, one of the toughest guys to ever do it, and he's still scary at this age and everything. If he didn't want to retire today, he's still scary to people in that division." -- UFC president Dana White on Henderson

"McGregor is good for the sport, but, what is it?" he said. "You had Muhammad Ali who was a hero. He was, besides a great boxer, he did a lot, he did big things. But now that you have [Floyd] Mayweather] and you have Conor McGregor it's, 'I have money, I have money,' and everybody loves it. I don't know. That sells." -- Gegard Mousasi

"People are stupid, what can I say. They don't know who's a real fighter or not. They just like to see expensive stuff on Instagram, probably, I don't know." -- More Mousasi

"A knockout is always the plan for me. I went for submissions today. But a knockout is always the plan for me." -- Jimi Manuwa, who followed through on his plan against Ovince Saint Preux

"[Chris] Weidman, what the hell? You lost your last fight. I've had three victories since you got your ass kicked by Luke Rockhold. Rockhold, I knocked you out in three minutes, buddy. Yoel Romero, you're suspended for steroids. Shame on you. All of you win a fight, get off the couch, and let's f***ing do this." -- Bisping, after recording his record 20th victory in the UFC

Stock report

Up: Michael Bisping Even back in the day when Bisping was thought of as the guy who couldn't quite get to the top, "The Count" was lauded for his extraordinary toughness by everyone from Chael Sonnen to Chris Weidman. This year, though, he's taken it to another level. First, there was the time Anderson Silva nearly knocked him out, but Bisping rallied for victory. Then there was last night, when it appeared for one breathtaking moment that Henderson was going to finish him with an H-bomb and take the title. Bisping kept his wits while Hendo rained down elbows and got to the end of the round. Then Henderson tagged him again in the second. Bisping's face after the fight was a testament to just how much damage he absorbed. While so much emphasis has rightly been placed on how much Bisping has improved his technique and footwork, make no mistake about the fact his resilience, which has been a hallmark of his career  in so many ways, has never been better than it has in the cage this year.

Up: Gegard Mousasi The Mousasi who opened up a Stone Cold-style can of whoop ass on Belfort in the second round of his fight against Vitor Belfort last night was the Mousasi we've been waiting on ever since he arrived in the UFC. And the guy who cracked wise and called it like he saw it in the press conference is someone we never thought we'd see. There's been much talk about the middleweight Big Four behind Michael Bisping -- Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, and Yoel Romero -- but with five wins in his last six fights, it's time to put the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ in that mix.

Down: Vitor Belfort Those three straight knockout wins in Brazil in 2013 feel like they were about a decade ago, don't they? Belfort's now dropped two straight and three of four after his listless loss to Mousasi. And it's not like there are many easy outs at 185 pounds. Playing out the string until he's free to take calls from Bellator seems like the only real option at this point if the 39-year-old Belfort is looking to continue on.

Up: Mirsad Bektic No, a victory over late replacement Russell Doane (who himself deserves credit for stepping up and taking the fight) doesn't put you on the fast track. But still, Bektic was one of the more exciting prospects in the featherweight division. So to see him return from what was described as a severe ACL injury and pick up where he left off a year and a half ago with a smooth performance was a joy to see. At 11-0, the American Top Team fighter is pretty close to losing the "prospect" tag in favor of "contender."

Interesting calls

A close fight can be debatable without being a robbery. I had Henderson winning the fight 48-47 over Bisping, taking the first two rounds with his big knockdowns and giving him the edge in a tight round five. But I can also see how you can score the fifth for Bisping. And this doesn't even take into account whether your scored the opening round 10-8 for Hendo, which, in the heat of the moment, I didn't. But, again, not every close decision is a travesty, so let's save the outrage for the ones that truly deserve it.

Marc Goddard is one of the top referees going, but he had a bad moment in the Mike Perry-Danny Roberts fight. It was clear Roberts' lights went out before he hit the deck after Perry hit him with a knee and a right hand. But Perry unloaded several more shots before Goddard stepped in. If nothing else, this illustrates just how important it is for the referee to be in proper position at all times, because those split seconds can be the difference between a good stoppage and a fighter taking an unnecessary beating.

Fight I'd like to see next: Michael Bisping vs. Chris Weidman

Not much really jumped off the screen as a must-make fight coming out of last night. And the middleweight picture is on hold pending the results of the unofficial mini-tournament with Weidman vs. Yoel Romero and Rockhold vs. Jacare Souza. You can make a case for any of the four. But Weidman never got the chance to regain the title he lost; Bisping only got the title opportunity against Rockhold because Weidman had to pull out of UFC 199 with an injury; and Bisping would have a third straight opportunity at avenging a loss, after defeating Rockhold and Henderson. If Weidman gets the job done against Romero at UFC 205, then Bisping-Weidman is the fight to make.

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