I hate to admit this, but there’s something about Dan Henderson — that unquestionably brilliant fighter who has asserted himself among the best to ever lace on a pair of MMA gloves… something that gets under my skin. When Henderson steps in the cage Saturday night for UFC 161: “Evans vs. Henderson”, I will yet again rooting against him, as I have for close to fifteen years. Somehow, I don’t feel good about it, but I’ve come to accept it.
I’m serious here. In “Soul on Ice” Eldridge Cleaver wrote, “the cost of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.” It’s certainly not what the Black Panther leader had in mind when he wrote it, but every time Henderson puts one of my favorite fighters on ice, I get to play the role of what the kids these days call a “hater.” It’s not a happy place for a longtime MMA fan.
But, like aging, I’m at peace with it.
Why? Well, take a look at Henderson’s 16-year strong, 38-fight MMA record. When I describe, say, Allan Goes — among the great MMA fighters of the 1990’s — along comes Henderson, lacking Goes’ MMA experience (which included a draw against Frank Shamrock) but still able to claim victory against him in 1998. On the same night, Henderson fought against another of my old favorites, former UFC titlist Carlos Newton. Both bouts were close, but in both instances Henderson got the judges’ nod.
In those days, and even today, Henderson has been given a rap for hitting the occasional strike and scoring the takedowns which lead to an often-controversial decision victory. But even I’ll admit that’s unfair. It’s not just his ability to ground out and neutralize a dynamic jiu-jitsu game like those of Newton and Goes that a fan like me has to cope with. Oh, no. Every time I try and think that’s the case, someone can remind me of that he scored brutal knockouts of Renzo Gracie and Murilo Bustamante. Well, then again, no… don’t do it. Those stung.
So, fast forward a few years. When I try and make an argument for Fedor Emilianenko as greatest heavyweight of all time, in rushes an undersized Henderson, swinging his right hand and, BAM! He sends the Russian reeling in their 2011 bout… along with my argument.
Henderson could be a great guy, but what can I say? This man’s MMA career seems to exist to taunt me. Sure, great wrestling is fun to watch but I love a great submission, there’s nothing like it — and for all his victories Henderson has scored only one in his MMA career, a guillotine choke in 1997. At least the other great wrestlers-turned-MMA fighters threw a bone to us now and then. Henderson has never had a highlight reel like Randy Couture’s brilliant “Gator Roll” against Mike Van Arsdale or Matt Hughes’ armbar counter against Georges St. Pierre. But all he does is win, win, win.
So, as always, when Henderson enters the cage Saturday at UFC 161 in Winnipeg I’ll be rooting against him. Rashad Evans will be a slight favorite, and earlier this week I predicted victory for Evans.
In my completely biased opinion, Henderson should retire. He wouldn’t care, and win or lose Saturday, he won’t. His brilliant Hall of Fame career will continue onward. When it’s over I’ll give him his proper respect, but until then, well, if I’m a “hater,” at least I can own it.