Is retirement ever really final in mixed martial arts? Yes, there comes a time when every competitive athlete has to stop. The problem, however, is identifying whether the this time is one where they're ready to hang up the gloves. With the opportunity for more money or attractive fights, it's hard to tell when a fighter has truly committed themselves to post-fighting life.
For Dan Henderson, who reportedly faces UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping on October 8th in Manchester, England, he's certain, win or lose, this is his last MMA fight. No, really.
"It all depended on what my options were afterwards as far as employment goes," Henderson said on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I was ready to kind of have that one be my last fight depending on, like I said, what options I'd have. For whatever reason, the stars aligned and the fans asked for one more fight, I guess."
According to Henderson, he was ready to call it a career after stopping Hector Lombard at UFC 199 in June. Fighting was a possibility, but it was contingent on what was being offered. "Absolutely," Henderson said of being ready to walk away from MMA after the Lombard win, "especially being able to go out with a win. Not necessarily on top, but with a win is always nice. To have an opportunity to actually go out on top would be much more desireable."
Henderson said he walked into his last fight without a new offer on the table. Nothing, he noted, had been discussed with UFC management. First things first, Henderson said: finish the fight with Lombard and then see what's available.
" [I] kinda wanted to finish my contract up and have a talk with Dana [White] about either representing [the UFC] in some capacity outside of the cage in working for the UFC," he said. "That was what I was going to speak with them about, not necessarily fighting again."
'Hendo' recalled the UFC made contact with him a couple of weeks later. Their offer? Rematch Bisping, who Henderson brutally knocked out at UFC 100 in July of 2009. "Why wouldn't I do that instead?" he asked. "I'm ready to be done and done training and everything else and focus on family and other things a little bit more."
As he told it, Henderson wasn't altogether surprised by the UFC's offer. There was momentum building around it by the time the UFC came to him with an offer. The key item, Henderson said, was how the UFC came to their decision.
"I don't know if I was surprised just because I saw on my social media and all over the place how many fans wanted that fight," he said. "The UFC does listen to the fans sometimes. It didn't hurt, like I said, that Michael Bisping wanted the fight also."
On the same night Henderson became the first person to stop Lombard with strikes, fans and friends were already suggesting he fight Bisping, as it was the same night the Brit beat Luke Rockhold to win the middleweight strap. That, he confessed, made accepting any formal offer once it arrived easier. "I actually found it amusing because right away all my friends were texting me as soon as Bisping won I should fight again. I was like, 'No, that wouldn't happen'. I didn't think that was a possibility and it really didn't enter my mind that I'd have that opportunity. At the press conference I was just missed that him and Luke [Rockhold] gone back and forth with each other. It was entertaining.
"It's something I didn't think was going to happen and now it's happening and I'm going to make sure to make the most of it."
Henderson said a bout agreement has been signed and his new UFC deal calls for more than one fight. "I don't think Dana quite believes me," Henderson said. "I have no desire to fight again after this one." According to the former two-time Olympian, he's content with his career. He's earned nearly all of the accolades he's cared to claim: Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, PRIDE welterweight and middleweight champion and more.
The one he hasn't claimed, however, is a UFC title. That's why fighting Bisping is intriguing enough to keep the career alive for one more night. It's the final piece to the puzzle.
"I'm sure I'm definitely going to miss the competition, but you have to understand I've been competing my whole life," he continued. "Like I said, it'll be nice to have this opportunity to finish in that way."
Henderson will be 46 years of age by the time he faces Bisping again, a fact of athletic life that is not lost on him. He's aware that another camp won't be easy, but it also won't be unfamiliar. If anything, he has a process in place that he's honed and sharpened through the years of his competitive life.
Besides, he noted, there's an extra incentive this time to gut through it.
"It's always tough," Henderson said of training at his age. "The last I don't know how many years, it's gotten tougher. It is what it is. I just keep on going. I'm pretty disciplined when it comes to a lot of things with training. Where I'm lacking, I have somebody to yell at me and get me going. I'll make sure I'm focused on certain things, but, no, this isn't going to be any different than the last training camp. I might be even easier knowing there's a belt there and I get to attempt to shut Bisping's mouth up again."
As for getting a job with the UFC to represent them when his fighting days are over, Henderson "didn't get any type of commitment out of them for that, but it's been discussed." Henderson said they'll cross that bridge when the time comes. More importantly and presently, he's "pretty much done and ready to be done, mentally. Physically, I think my body could handle another few years, but I'm ready to move on."
As prepared as he is for life after fighting, Henderson doesn't want to create misconceptions. Lest someone assume his impending retirement will mean he lacks the proper incentive to train correctly or be competitive up to the task, he doesn't want to create the wrong impressions. He's in this for the storybook ending to his career he's always wanted.
"Don't get me wrong," Henderson said. "I'm going to be extremely motivated to make sure that I do well in this fight."