Since beating Mauricio "Shogun" Rua last November, Dan Henderson has pretty much had his mind made up that he was not going to fight again until gold was involved, no matter the wait. What was going to happen if he spent months on the sidelines, anyway? He was already 41 years old. He wasn't suddenly going to get old waiting; he already was old, at least in sportsman terms.
Last week, UFC president Dana White said that Henderson elected to extend his wait, probably into the summer months and possibly beyond. White had floated the idea of a Rua rematch past Henderson's camp, and apparently, there wasn't a whole lot of interest.
The immediate reaction to that was disappointment. At UFC 139, Henderson and Rua had engaged in one of the best matches in mixed martial arts history, a five-round classic that saw both men on the brink of defeat at times, only to survive to the closing bell. Henderson ultimately won a unanimous decision, winning the bout by one point on all three judges' scorecards.
That bout though, is still fresh in the minds of those who saw it, and there would have been no point to a rematch coming so soon after the original. Neither man has fought since, taking time to recover after the war of attrition. The division has mostly stood still, too, with champ Jon Jones successfully defending the belt against Lyoto Machida, and Rashad Evans maintaining his No. 1 contender status with a dominant win over Phil Davis.
Henderson's initial decision to wait was partly based upon the belief that a loss by either Jones or Evans would vault him into a light-heavyweight title match. But since both won, he is left idling until after their title match, which is to be held next month in Atlanta.
Then, the winner will likely need a month or two to take some time off before beginning training camp, putting the champion's next title defense sometime around August. That long layoff is likely why White proposed a new fight for Henderson.
The date White wanted would have come in July. That would mean that even if Henderson won, his schedule would be unlikely to line up with the winner, meaning he might be bypassed for a title shot even if he wins in spectacular fashion.
Beyond that, what exactly would Henderson have gained by beating Rua twice in a seven-month span? The rewards of the victory should have been earned the first time around, so there would be little to gain and much to lose in a rematch.
Finally, why risk altering the memory and history of the first match? Everyone remembers the Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fight because it was a watershed moment in MMA history and produced a fantastic fight. Just 16 months later, the UFC tried to recapture the magic by rematching the duo, but the two had learned enough about each other in the interim to adjust their approaches, and the fight was nowhere near as entertaining as the first time around.
While it didn't retroactively downgrade the first match between the two, it did change the history between them. If you bring up Griffin-Bonnar, the instinct is to flash back to the original fight, but sometimes, you can’t help but remember the second time around as well, and that does not deliver the same fond memories.
In terms of history, Henderson and Rua was simply a fight that we had been robbed of seeing. They had been two of the best for a long time, but their paths simply hadn’t crossed. When they fought, there wasn’t any belts on the line, but their collective pride ensured they would fight with ferocity in a match that meant nothing past the 25 scheduled minutes of action. When the final horn sounded, we were left with a feeling that we had witnessed one of the last great battles for both men. That they had left something behind them that night that could not be returned. That is the gift of a great fight to its fans.
From the beginning, Henderson-Rua was about history. That result should be left to history, as well.
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