Better With Age
Returning Dan Henderson Wants UFC Gold Before Retirement
Most of his contemporaries are either retired or hanging on to their fight careers by their fingernails, but 41-year-old Dan Henderson keeps on mopping the mat with his younger, mostly bigger opponents. In truth though, it has never mattered just how large they are. In his eyes, if it’s a fight worth making, it’s a fight worth taking. Nothing exemplifies that more than the most recent four-fight stretch of his career, during which he fought in three different weight classes.
Now back in the UFC after vacating the Strikeforce light-heavyweight championship to return to the octagon, Henderson is still conducting his career with the same trademark laissez-faire attitude that’s been his hallmark. Though he is returning as a light-heavyweight in a UFC 139 main event bout against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua this Saturday, Henderson won’t classify himself into a single division. Instead, he focuses on a more general target.
“Just like anyone I have set goals for myself, and one of the goals is to obtain a UFC belt,” Henderson said on Wednesday. “So that’s definitely on my list. But in order to do that, I have to get past Shogun and have a good performance.”
Exactly which belt he is after though is anyone’s guess.
His last fight, a first-round knockout of Fedor Emelianenko, came in the heavyweight division. Prior to that, he knocked out Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante to capture Strikeforce’s light-heavyweight belt. And because he naturally walks around at just over 200 pounds, Henderson (28-8) can easily make middleweight, where he has in the past lobbied for a rematch against long-reigning kingpin Anderson Silva (a 2008 title fight between them ended with Silva a winner by submission).
While Henderson’s aversion to cutting weight is well known at this stage of his career -- “I’m never enthused about it,” he says -- he at least concedes that the temptation of fighting Silva one more time would send him to the sauna to drop a few pounds of water weight.
“If I was to cut weight, there’s only one matchup right now I’d do that for,” he said.
Much is dependent on Saturday night, of course. In Rua, he faces a former UFC champ and PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix winner who has had some uneven performances in the octagon. Rua is just 2-2 in his last two fights, but is coming off 1-minute, 53-second destruction of Forrest Griffin in August.
The fight may also have some personal meaning for Rua, whose brother Murilo faced Henderson a decade ago, fighting him to a split-decision loss. Rua says he has fond memories of the bout, which took place in Japan, but as one of his brother’s main training partners for the fight, there’s no doubt he’d like to avenge the loss. Recently, he said he hopes to be the first to knock Henderson out.
“Good luck to him on that one,” Henderson said.
Henderson’s durability has been one of his greatest strengths as time has gone on. While many fighters lose their ability to take a punch over time, Henderson has never been knocked out in 36 pro fights, despite facing powerful strikers including Emelianenko, Silva, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Vitor Belfort.
At some point, it would seem logical that age or wear and tear would catch up with Henderson, but he’s determined not to let that happen just yet. A win over Rua would put him in an enviable position: poised to challenge for either the 185- or 205-pound belts.
That scenario sounds remarkably similar to his last tenure in the UFC, when he arrived from PRIDE with belts from two weight classes and immediately challenged both of the UFC’s divisional kingpins. Those were fights he ultimately lost, but more than four years later, here we go again. But this time, at 41, it would be an even more incredible story if he could finally win and add a UFC championship belt to his collection.
“I definitely feel like I’ve got a lot of fight left in me,” he said.
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