Before modern MMA free agency became an item of discussion, Dan Henderson had practiced it years ago. After UFC 100, Henderson's contract with the UFC has been completed, and after a brief period of negotiation with the UFC, chose to walk and eventually sign with Strikeforce.
While Henderson doesn't exactly find himself in an identical position today, it's still relatively unique. Ahead of his rematch with Lyoto Machida at UFC on FOX 19, Henderson is on the last fight of his current deal. The issue for Henderson is how much longer he really has left in fighting. By his own estimation, it's limited and ideally, he'd like to finish out his career in the UFC..
Yet, he also has perspective about what it means to finish out contracts and test the free agency waters. In this interview from The Luke Thomas Show on SiriusXM, Henderson discusses the current spate of fighters pursuing 'free agency', what could be next for him after the Machida fight, how he's game planning around the Brazilian's strengths and more.
Full transcript and partial audio below:
Do you have any reaction to the latest Jon Jones news?
DH: I don't know. I don't even know what to say about Jon Jones anymore. You'd think one of these times he would learn from it and grow up a little bit and start to represent the sport a lot better and be a role model. That would be my hope, but it doesn't seem to ever happen.
You last fought in November, but I saw you spent time on vacation. What was the plan after the loss to Vitor Belfort?
I pretty much schedule a little vacation after every fight. I stayed in for, I think, three or four days after the fight last time. Then I went to straight to Kuwait to represent and see the troops over there with a bunch of different big military bases. I was there for ten days.
That wasn't a vacation, but I had a great time. It was good to see all the troops that sacrifice for us.
Looking back on the Belfort loss, you said you thought it was stopped a little early. Have you gone back and watched the footage? If so, do you still believe the referee was too proactive?
Yeah, absolutely. Especially with somebody that has...I've been around a long time. It's not like I'm new in there and haven't proven myself. I'm definitely a lot more durable than that and would've liked to had the opportunity to see if I could recover and see if I could be fine.
I was doing the right things when the fight got stopped going for a single leg and trying to hold onto him and recover. That's just the way it goes. I got caught and got definitely rocked and wanted to see if I could recover.
It just was a few times in the last couple years that's happened to me. Two or three times. It's just unfortunate and there's nothing I can do about it. Just learn from it. Biggest thing is not get kicked in the head in the first place, I guess.
Do you believe, generally speaking, MMA refereeing is bad?
I wouldn't say generally speaking. There definitely has been quite a few more mistakes made these days, but that could just be the result of having a lot more fights than there were a few years ago. There's a lot more mistakes that can happen, but I think they definitely need to be a little more educated. Some of the better of refs need to maybe be paid to teach the up-and comer refs, the ones that aren't quite up on that level to learn how to referee a little better.
There's definitely some good refs out there and some refs that are just green or not all that experienced.
There's a relatively new phenomenon of fighters completing the terms of their contract before renegotiation. Before you went to Strikeforce from UFC, did you fight it out or was there a sunset clause in terms of timing?
No, that was the end of my contract. I negotiated with UFC to re-sign with them and didn't come up with a deal. Told them, 'No, thanks,' before I even went and talked to Strikeforce.
It wasn't like I went and played both sides. I just said, 'No, thanks. I know I'm worth more than that.' I went out and got paid more than that.
That was back then and now I think there's more opportunity right now with Rizin coming back in Japan and obviously Bellator's really been making some big fights lately.
But what changed? Young fighters want to chase belts, but when did the priority seem to shift towards making more money?
I think that's always been there. I think for a while there wasn't always that much opportunity to make more money. The UFC, once they bought PRIDE, there wasn't as many options to go out and make money and you were stuck in the UFC for a while if you wanted to get paid pretty decent. Then obviously Strikeforce came along and UFC bought that as well.
There was a few years where there wasn't really any options and now there have become options again. It's always going to be like that, where guys are going to look elsewhere to get paid more if they think they're worth more than what they're getting paid.
That's kinda what it comes down to and it's a good way to build the sport as well is having more than one promotion out there. Obviously everybody knows the top guys are in the UFC at this point, but you never know what happens in the future.
How many fights do you have left on your current contract?
This is my last fight on my contract.
Are you at all entertaining the idea - win, lose or draw - that Bellator's an option for you?
I honestly haven't thought about it. I know that without having any fights left my contract with the UFC is an option, but I'm getting to the point where I'm not going to have too many more fights. I would like to end up fighting my last fight in the UFC.
We'll see how things go after this fight. How things go in the fight probably makes a big difference as well. I'm getting definitely close to the end of my career.
Lyoto Machida's in a tough spot. He's long in the tooth, lost three of his last four. Where do you think Lyoto Machida is these days?
DH: I think there probably was other issues, at least for one or two of those losses, that would come into play. He's still tough, he's very dangerous and he's a tough guy to pin down in the cage. He moves around a lot. He's just a tough guy to fight because he doesn't stand there and trade punches with you. He's really good at his style. It's a matter of trying to make the fight in a way that's my fight, not the way he wants the fight to be.
I just need to stay in his face and make him fight me.
Is that the idea: you've got to get him backing up in order to make your offense work?
He backs up no matter what. It's just a matter of pining him down, cutting him off and making sure you stay in his face to be able to hit him. He's a hard guy to hit. He moves really well and stays away and he's quick. The game plan would be just to win, for sure.
Machida never took a lot of punishment in his career, with some exception. Do you believe his capacity for taking damage has diminished or he's taking more than he ever has, so we notice it more than we ever did?
People are just figuring out his style a little better and staying in his face a little better. Like I said, if he had a little bit of injury, which limited his movement - that's what he relies on - he's a lot easier to catch that way. I know that he probably had that issue in at least one of those fights he lost.
I don't think he likes to be on his back much and he's hard to get there, but once you get him there, I think guys have done well with that as well. I definitely plan on putting him on his back one way or another.
Khabib Nurmagomedov headlines the card you're on. He's had two years off due to injury. You've had an issue similar to that after your fight with Shogun in 2011. You didn't fight again until 2013. Why is it some guys look like they never miss a day when they return and yet, most guys struggle to get back to normal from a layoff?
Well, when I took quite a bit of time off, I came back and that was the last time I fought Machida. I had some issues in training camp that didn't make me as mobile as I should've been the last time I fought him. I didn't fight for 13 or 14 months. It was little bit tougher, but I think I had other issues than just the time off.
I've taken quite a bit of time off before and never had any issues. Sometimes there's other circumstances that play in there as well. In my case, it wasn't necessarily the lack of fighting. It was some other issues I had going on injury wise.