For 45-year-old Dan Henderson, UFC 199 was tough, but it sure was sweet, too. After nearly being stopped by heavy-handed Hector Lombard, the former Strikeforce and PRIDE champion found a way to hang on just long enough to put Lombard's lights out completely. Not only was the win a come-from-behind victory, but Henderson becomes the first person to stop Lombard with strikes in the Cuban-Australian's mixed martial arts career.
Henderson, however, will be the first to tell you the win didn't come easy.
"It's always nicer to not get hurt in that round. I know that I felt like I hurt him a little bit and came in. He popped me. Next thing you know I'm on the ground, but I was aware the whole time on the ground. Obviously, I said 's--t!' So, I just knew I needed to recover and try to get back up," Henderson told the media at the UFC 199 post-fight press conference.
"He kept on me. He didn't hurt me to where I was not knowing what was going on, but he had me in trouble for a while," Henderson confessed. "The second time I went down, I feel like I remember being on my hands still and he threw a knee on my head and knocked me down again. I just decided to hold onto him and recover and start in round two."
That's precisely what Henderson did before landing a head kick and back elbow that shut Lombard's lights out at the 1:27 mark of the second round.
The question Henderson faces now is what's next. Saturday's fight was the last on his UFC contract. As he stated, he's not even sure he wants to continue. The task ahead for Henderson is to figure out what he wants to do and see how that matches with what's available.
"I don't want to make any decisions emotionally, but knowing that in my mind there's a possibility that might've been the last one. It was obviously a good one to have that and all my kids and everybody were able to come. It was a little more emotional.
"Yeah, I don't know. It all depends on what my options are afterwards," he said. "Obviously, I'm going to need a paycheck for a little while, but we'll see what happens."
As Henderson explained, he's not so much tied to the identity of being 'a fighter' as much as simply enjoys the work. Between the enjoyment and his ability to compete at a high level, there's not a lot of incentive to leave. That said, he also knows moving onto other things is an inevitability. As he inches closer to 50 years of age, drawing a demarcation line has become a real priority.
"It's never been an identity thing. Obviously, the money helps. I love doing this, though, and I love getting paid to do it," Henderson explained. "For me, it's along the way been more about the challenge. Every opponent I get is a different challenge. Sometimes bigger. They're just different. I feel like as I've gotten older it's a different type of challenge. I'm kind of challenging myself with my opponent and time as well. I'm definitely older than the average guy fighting, for sure.
"I feel good. I feel like I'm still capable of competing with the top guys. It's more about the other things I want to do in life and spending time with the kids. I've managed to do that just fine along the way. But I'm getting close to being ready to being done and being OK with it. I've been OK with it for a while. If I look back at what I've done, I'm completely OK with it. I feel good about myself as well."
For now, Henderson is going to enjoy time off. Few would argue he hasn't earned it. If this was his final fight, he leaves on a high note, but there's no telling. Ever the calculating type, Henderson only wants time to make an informed decision about his next step.
"We'll see. I'm not making any decisions now," he said. "I'm just going to wait and see what happens and see what my options are."