With UFC 157 right around the corner, the majority of the attention is centered on the females. Not only is Ronda Rousey versus Liz Carmouche the first woman’s bout in the promotions history, but it is also the first title female title fight in UFC history as well. The significance of such a landmark event goes without saying, but due to such attention on the main event, the co-main event has been somewhat lost in the shuffle. Especially considering that participating in the co-main event will be one of the heaviest hitters in the sport today: MMA legend Dan “Hendo” Henderson. He will be facing the extremely elusive and former UFC Light-heavyweight Champion Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. So let’s take a moment to reminisce and appreciate the legacy of one Dan Henderson.
When the time comes for Henderson to hang up the gloves, he’ll without a doubt be remembered for more than simply being blamed for the cancellation of UFC 151 late last year. He will instead be remembered for his long and illustrious career, competing all over the world for several different promotions and winning titles in different weight classes.
Boxing color commentator and analyst Teddy Atlas has said that in order to be great, you need longevity. If nothing else, Henderson’s career has exactly that. And I emphasize has, as Hendo is not only still strong and kicking in the sport today but he’s on the verge on earning yet another title shot. Like his former teammate Randy “The Natural” Couture, Henderson started his career in 1997. However, unlike Couture, Hendo was 27-years old at the time. And with only two fights and a year of “NHB” competition (what MMA was known as in the early days of the sport), Henderson entered the UFC 17 middleweight tournament in 1998. At the time, the middleweight division was what is now known as the light-heavyweight division. In one night, he defeated Carlos Newton and Allan Goes. He would then seek greener pastures and plied his trade in Japan, where he put on a repeat performance to win his second major MMA title, the Rings King of Kings 1999 tournament. There, he defeated fighters such as Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira before opting to stay in Japan and sign with the PRIDE Fighting Championship.
It was there in PRIDE where Henderson truly excelled – not necessarily in terms of his record with PRIDE, but in the fashion in which he handled his losses and came back from them. The loss column on his record is equally as impressive as the win column, with losses to Wanderlei Silva and Minotauro, just to name a few. After failing to get past the opening round of the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, he opted to drop down a weight class and enter PRIDE’s Welterweight (183lbs) Grand Prix. Participating in one of the greatest mixed martial arts events in the sports history, Bushido 9, Henderson knocked out Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono with his patented right hand to earn his spot in the finals. There, he faced former UFC middleweight champ Murilo Bustamante. This bout was a rematch from a couple of years earlier where Henderson emerged victorious by controversial referee stoppage. Henderson once again came away with the victory, only this time it was a lot closer than before, winning by a split decision.
He would then experience mixed results, exchanging victories with Kazuo Misaki before returning to the middleweight (205lbs) division. When he did, PRIDE was nearing its end after it was revealed that the powers that be had close ties with the Yakuza. On their last leg, PRIDE came to the States to stage a couple of events in Las Vegas, where Henderson was granted a rematch with Silva for the PRIDE middleweight title. After two exciting rounds, Henderson showed the world the power he had in his left hand by knocking Silva out in the third round, making history as the first and only mixed martial artist to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight divisions.
After the collapse of PRIDE, Henderson made his way back to the UFC after ZUFFA purchased the Japanese promotion in 2007. When he arrived, he was immediately set up in championship bouts in both divisions, coming up short in both. After losing to Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva, he continued his march to greatness in the UFC middleweight division. It was there that Henderson accomplished one of the most memorable and popular feats in his entire career, and oddly enough, it had nothing to do with winning another title. After an incredibly entertaining Season Nine of The Ultimate Fighter, where Henderson coached team USA and Michael Bisping coached team UK, Henderson and Bisping were signed to fight at the historic event UFC 100. In the second round, Henderson brutally knocked Bisping out cold – only to follow up with one more while Bisping was on the canvas and completely out. UFC 100 garnered 1.6 millions pay-per-view buys; if no one knew who Henderson was before this event, they did after.
After that fight, Henderson would pack up once more and seek his fortunes elsewhere, this time under the Strikeforce banner, where he was granted an immediate title shot at then-middleweight champion Jake Shields. Henderson would lose a unanimous decision after nearly finishing Shields in the first round. Henderson seemed to have severely gassed out midway in the bout and was unjustly criticized for that performance. He would again move up to light-heavyweight, where he currently competes at, and , again found success, winning the Strikeforce light-heavyweight title by defeating Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante by knockout, showing he still had one hell of right hand. He then followed that up by handing Fedor Emelienenko his one true knockout loss by KO’ing him in the first round of their bout.
After ZUFFA purchased Strikeforce in 2011, Henderson would again call the Octagon his home. In his first bout since returning with the UFC, he faced Mauricio “Shogun”Rua, in what would earn Fight of the Night honors along with being named the Fight of Year. Henderson would win that bout with Rua by unanimous decision in an all out scrap that saw both fighters hit the canvas. With that win, Henderson took another step forward towards another light-heavyweight title shot, this time against Jon “Bones” Jones. That title shot will greatly depend on how his bout with Machida plays out this weekend in Anahiem.
Cut from the same cloth as former teammate Couture, Henderson’s career is nearing its sixteenth year as he approaches the age of 43. No one is sure how much longer Henderson can continue to be successful in MMA, or at least successful at an elite level. But the legacy he’ll leave behind when his career is all said and done will be nothing short of legendary, making history on several occasions and being one of the true bad asses in the sport at the same time. Winning titles in different promotions, some in different divisions, and facing a who’s who of MMA greats, means Henderson will go down in history as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of our generation, maybe even of all time. And for all we know, he may not even be done quite yet.