Dan Henderson’s future lies in a league of legends, not title contention

Dan Henderson's next fight fights should define his career, not get him closer to the belt 

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Two rounds into the rematch between Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Dan Henderson and I was convinced that by the end of the night I’d be writing about the retirement of one of the greatest fighters MMA has ever known, and what a grand ride it’s been watching him perform.  Henderson was nearly knocked out in the first round, and looked slow and sluggish throughout the second.

The writing was on the wall — Henderson’s historic career was finally coming to a close and we were witnessing the end of an era.

One right hand from Henderson in the third round erased the entire context of what I was about to write, and also rearranged Rua’s nose into a zig-zag shape like something from a piece of abstract art.  It was classic Dan Henderson and it’s the reason again why you just learn to never doubt the heart of a legend.

"Don’t count the old man out," Henderson said after his win.

Don’t count the old man out

— Dan Henderson 

At 43-years of age, Henderson is starting to approach Randy Couture country in terms of relevancy in a sport where age eventually catches up to everyone. Chuck Liddell retired at age 40. Matt Hughes at 39.  But here is Henderson still knocking out top 10 fighters at 43. 

It’s something to behold and something the next generation of fighters, fans and journalists should all try and appreciate.

Now there are going to be cries after this amazing comeback victory that Henderson should consider retirement even if he did win on Sunday night against Shogun.  He was getting plastered through the first two rounds before pulling out the Hail Mary punch in the third that won him the fight.  It’s also well known that former champions rarely retire, but more so get forced to step away after a series of devastating defeats.  So how great would it be to see an icon like Henderson win a big fight, take off his gloves and call it a career?

That’s just not who Dan Henderson is, ever has been or ever will be and the fact of the matter is he’s still got some fight left in him. 

Six fights ago, Henderson knocked out the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time in Fedor Emelianenko.  In two of his last five fights, Henderson beat Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, a future Hall of Famer and champion in his own right.  He lost two razor close decisions against Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans that you could argue could have easily gone Henderson’s way.  There’s no erasing the knockout to Vitor Belfort, but that was the first time Henderson had been knocked out in 40 professional fights and the first time he had been finished in nearly six years.

So the big question then becomes what’s next for a fighter like Henderson?

Henderson finishes off Shogun 

I would argue that despite his ranking, which will likely bump up to at least No. 7 after drubbing Rua on Sunday night, that his days of title contention are over.  As Chael Sonnen astutely pointed out during the UFC pre-fight show, the light heavyweight division has a huge list of contenders already lined up so it would take Henderson the better part of two years to even be considered for another title shot, and that’s just not realistic.

Another popular idea seems to pit Henderson against the top contenders and allowing him to serve as the gateway to the title.  Some suggested to put Henderson in against Daniel Cormier to see if the former two-time Olympian was really ready for a shot at the belt against a champion the level of Jon Jones.  But again I say nay, that’s not what’s in Henderson’s best interest.

My suggestion lies in a ‘league of legends’ and I’m not talking about the popular online video game.

Let’s see Dan Henderson settle his rivalry with Wanderlei Silva once and for all.  The two fighters have split a pair of fights already, and a third fight would surely get a whole lot of PRIDE loving fans in the seats and on their feet.  How about a rematch with Rich Franklin for his retirement fight once he puts the juice glasses down?  Their first fight was a close decision that many people scored for Franklin, so why not do it again?  There’s also a second matchup against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira if he ever returns to action.

And maybe, just maybe a third fight against Shogun, although Henderson seems ready to put that rivalry to bed.

"I don’t know about that. After that first fight, I didn’t think I could do it any better than that.  I don’t think it could have been more exciting, but this one was definitely close to that one," Henderson said about another fight with Shogun.  "Maybe we just bring the best out of each other as far as excitement goes."

All of those fights would be exciting, highly anticipated rematches that won’t knock anyone out of title contention, but every, single one of them has a story to tell.  Henderson will certainly argue that he still wants to battle for the UFC belt, but if we’re being honest, it’s probably never going to happen.

Instead, Henderson goes out and fills his resume with fellow legends and Hall of Fame candidates.  The book on Dan Henderson is already written and it’s a career that few, if any, will ever match.  At this point, it’s almost time to roll the credits, but before we get there Henderson still has a few surprises left up his sleeve.

Let him face a who’s who of MMA icons and when it’s all over, Henderson can ride off into the sunset with his head held high, proud of the work he’s put in over the last nearly two decades as one of the best fighters on the planet.