It’s hard to describe what we saw this past Saturday night when Dan Henderson made his return to the UFC a successful one. 12 years older and close to 15 lbs lighter, Henderson was able to hang on for 5 dramatic minutes in the fifth and final round to defeat Maurico “Shogun” Rua in the main event of UFC 139. It was an amazing fight. I saw Joe Rogan afterwards who told me “I have seen them all, and this is the best fight in UFC history”!
Let’s go back to a week ago Monday when I stopped by Team Quest to watch Dan’s final workout before flying to San Jose. The plan was for Dan to spar 5 hard rounds, but due to a chest cold he couldn’t shake, he was only able to go four. There seemed to be more concern than usual amongst his coaches when asked about final preparations. Those concerns stayed with me all week and as the fighters made their walk to the cage.
After introductions the fighters were brought to the center of the cage where the size difference became apparent immediately. Rua looked huge next to Henderson. Not huge in the sense of muscles like we saw with Feijao, but his legs looked like those of an NFL linebacker.
The fight itself was almost like two separate fights. One that consisted of rounds 1-3 and the other in the championship rounds of 4 and 5. Henderson clearly hurt Rua in the first round, opening up a cut over the younger man’s eye in the process. Speaking with Dan’s coaches afterwards, they said when Dan saw blood, the game plan of working the body went out the window. Dan went for the KO, but credit to Rua who was able to hang on and survive the round. It was a clear 10-9 round for Dan.
The second round was more of the same as both guys had their moments, but Henderson was landing the bigger shots. Shots that were starting to disfigure Rua’s face in a manner we have never seen before. This was again a round scored by all three judges 10-9 in Dan’s favor.
The third round was a huge one for Henderson as he landed a couple of monster right hands that put the bigger and younger Rua on the mat. Dan pounced looking for the finish, and it’s hard to imagine any ref not named Josh Rosenthal not stopping the fight. Rosenthal has a reputation of being a very smart ref who is going to give fighters every chance to continue before calling an end to a fight. He lived up to that reputation here. While as a Hendo fan I wanted him to jump in, I respect the fact he has always been consistent. This was another round scored 10-9 for Dan**
The fourth round saw a swing in momentum as Rua started to find a second wind and found himself right back in the fight after landing a monster uppercut that clearly had Henderson in trouble. Dan found it within himself to survive, and while Dan feels like he did enough in the round to win I can’t argue with the judges who gave the round to Rua 10-9.
The fifth round is where the debate is focused. Henderson came out clearly looking to just hang on and earn the decision. The round was dominated by Rua and the judges agreed giving it to the former champ by a 10-9 score. Dana White said in the post fight press conference that he scored the fifth 10-8 in favor of Rua which would have made the fight a draw.
As I write this on Monday I am basing everything on what I saw (and remember) from my spot at ringside. I have no problem with the idea of a 10-8 round for Rua in the fifth as long as the third is considered for a 10-8 round for Dan. It’s really hard for me to believe that fight would not have been stopped by another referee. As Dan himself said afterwards one or two more good shots would have forced Rosenthal to step in. If a fighter is in that much trouble, how can you not also consider that for a 10-8 round?
At the end of the night the right guy won the fight. Rua may have a broken jaw and his face looked as if he had been in a car accident. That being said, I have never seen anything close to the guts and heart displayed by both guys. I was a Rua fan going into the fight, and a bigger fan afterwards. One of the best parts of this job allows me to go backstage after the fights.
The class shown by both guys and their respective teams is hard to imagine. Here are two guys who just minutes earlier tried to knock each other out now sharing handshakes and hugs in the ultimate show of class.
I know some people would like to see a rematch, and it’s almost a given it will happen…down the road. Henderson was promised a shot at a title if he won and he did just that.
He has earned the right to fight Jon Jones or get that rematch that he wants with Anderson Silva.
One of the great things about sports is the chance to argue who won and who is better. You may think the fight should have been a draw. I have no problem with that (even though you would be wrong) I also have no problem with people who like another fight in UFC history better than this one. Got to be honest, (Ben) Henderson vs. Clay Guida was maybe my personal favorite. Scott Coker told me one time “Guys can do more for themselves in this sport losing a great fight than winning a bad one”. This was a great fight, and instead of debating the decision I am thankful I was there and even more thankful that we seem to keep seeing fights like this on a regular basis. What a night and what a fight! Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Clinch Gear!