There isn’t much left for Dan Henderson to accomplish in mixed martial arts. He’s won three big tournaments, snagged a Pride FC belt, fought for the UFC title, ruled the roost as a TUF coach, scored a Strikeforce belt – the list goes on, and it’s so impressive, when Henderson meets Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, it’s very likely the former Apostle is going to ask ol’ “Hendo” for his autograph before allowing him to pass. Which brings us to Saturday, and the matter of Strikeforce’s headlining bout of Henderson versus Fedor Emelianenko. No titles are up for grabs and no major shakeups in the rankings are at stake, they’re fighting just because. And that’s okay. Like the “Last Emperor”,Henderson has earned the right to simply throw down against a fellow legend for the sheer coolness of it all. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane and recall what makes Henderson’s career jam-packed with awesome, shall we?
-UFC 17’s four-man tournament, May, 1998 – Back then, the days of one-night tournaments in the UFC were winding down, but one of the last few featured Henderson and three other promising fighters (Carlos Newton, Allan Goes and Bob Gilstrap) mixing it up, with the winner getting a shot a champ Frank Shamrock. Hendo won, despite getting his jaw broken by Newton in the finals, and all were impressed with his toughness. Unfortunately, due to a pay-per-view ban and ever-dwindling resources, things were a bit dicey for the pre-Zuffa UFC, which led to top fighters like Henderson (and training partner Randy Couture) eschewing salary cuts to fight overseas. It would be over nine years before Henderson returned to the Octagon.
-RINGS “King of Kings” tournament, February, 2000 – Picture, if you will, an immense thirty-two man tournament stretched out over three events, with a roster of names that meant little back then but now… now… geez. There was Renato Sobral, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Renzo Gracie, Maurice Smith – I think you get the point. Henderson was thrust into that cauldron of raw pugilism as well, and though the rules were somewhat funky (open-hand strikes only on the feet, no striking on the ground), he excelled. And damn if he didn’t end up winning the whole thing!
-Pride 2005 Welterweight Grand Prix, September and December, 2005 –Henderson surfaced in Pride, and began winning some and losing some (his first bout against Wanderlei Silva was pretty epic, though). However, the time the organization’s 2005 welterweight tourney rolled around is when Hendo really began to shine. After flattening both Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono,Henderson met jiu-jitsu master Murilo Bustamante in the finals, and one close split decision later the American was a Pride champ.
-Pride 33, February, 2007 – Pride’s second and final venture into the US saw Henderson rematch with the “Axe Murderer”, and this time around it was all about Henderson hitting Silva so hard that the Brazilian still has no recollection of anything to do with that warm Las Vegas night back in February of 2007. Hendo earned himself another belt with the win, a shiny gold strap that said “Pride Middleweight Champ” on the front and “property of Wanderlei Silva” on the back.
-TUF 9 and UFC 100 – It may not have been the best idea to have a mouthy Michael Bisping coach “The Ultimate Fighter” against one of the most sedate and unobtrusive dudes in the sport, but there was sufficient build up to make their UFC 100 match-up compelling. Of course, it ended up being worth it when we were given the payoff:Henderson’s crushing KO of the Brit on the feet, and him flying through the air to give Bisping a forearm smash coup de grace.
-Strikeforce: “Feijao vs. Henderson”, March, 2011 – Once again Henderson took the show on the road, leaving the sanctity of the UFC to join the upper-echelon of Strikeforce’s talent pool. And though he was nearly dry-humped to death by Jake Shields in his attempt at usurping Shields’ middleweight throne, the promotion’s light-heavyweight crown ended up his by virtue of his demolition of Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.