On the night, and over a career, Gustafsson and Henderson took too many shots
Daniel Cormier raised an important concern and criticism after Saturday night’s Stockholm FOX UFC Fight Night concluded with the shocking first round TKO of Alexander Gustafsson by Anthony "Rumble" Johnson. The top light heavyweight Cormier spoke in his role as an analyst for FOX in the post-fight show and pointed out how the main event’s referee let Gustafsson eat far too many punches, for no good reason, before finally stepping in and calling a halt to the contenders’ bout.
Sure, Gustafsson was the favorite. Sure, he was at home, and had shown an incredible ability to survive and last despite absorbing punishment in the past.
Yes, the stakes were large, as a world title shot was on the line for each man. No, none of that should have mattered when it came down to the points that Cormier made so well.
Referees should not consider the supposed important stakes of a fight (ie. being for a title, for a title shot, etc.), the crowd, or a fighter’s past history of sustaining damage and still surviving. Well, perhaps they should consider the latter.
After all, fighting in real life isn’t like video games. If a UFC fighter has their "health bar" beaten down in one fight, it doesn’t just re-generate months or years later.
A certain amount of brain damage, once sustained, never goes away, and only serves to make fighters more susceptible to additional damage in later fights. So, when we look back, for example, at Gustafsson’s controversial title loss to champ Jon Jones in 2013, where he saw the final bell despite appearing to be out on his feet for a round and a half, the takeaway shouldn’t be that "The Mauler" can take a good shot, so we should let him take more.
The takeaway is, if anything, that Gustafsson has already sustained a lot of damage, so there’s no need to let him take unnecessary amounts in hopes of satisfying the always vague and wrong-headed requirement of "giving him a chance." Every fight, every fighter has a chance to win.
They walk in, the horn sounds, and there is their respective chance. Once a fighter is out, or once a fighter is not defending themselves, that’s why the referee is there – not to let them take more punishment, but to save them from their own bravery and instincts.
For quite a long time on Saturday, and far too many punches, Gustafsson lay on his face, eating punch after punch from Johnson, while not escaping danger, offering any defense, or mounting any offense of his own. Meanwhile, his head was bounced and snapped back and forth while the referee watched on.
The fight was decided long before the referee stepped in and called it, and the damage to Gustafsson’s brain only increased with every unnecessary second elapsing and punch landing.
Past time for Hendo to step away
If Gustafsson’s night was allowed to go on a few crucial moments too long, it’s clear that all-time great Dan Henderson’s MMA career has gone on for far too long as well. The excellent and thoughtful Joe Rogan was simply wrong when he called Gegard Mousasi’s knockout of Henderson controversial, afterwards.
In Saturday’s co-main event, Mousasi clipped Henderson on one of the most dangerous areas of the body – the back of the head -– and dropped the former two-time champ to a knee. Henderson gamely tried to regain his footing but turned and stumbled backwards and down into the fence and onto the mat.
From there, Mousasi charged in, and hit Henderson with a few more shots to the head. As Mousasi hit the grounded 44 year-old, Henderson’s legs went stiff and extended out, while his arms lay at his sides, leaving him defenseless.
The referee rightly stepped in after witnessing this and stopped the fight. After this, Henderson’s instincts kicked in, and he came to a bit, protesting the call, not realizing that he had gone out. Unfortunately, this was just the latest loss for and KO of the former Olympian.
In all, Henderson has lost five out of his last six fights. Three of those losses were by KO or submission.
In fact, since returning to the UFC in late 2011, Henderson has only managed to beat one man – fellow great Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He did so twice.
Even those wins were damaging to his health, however. In the first -- one of the most fantastically violent fights in MMA history — Henderson won a close decision but spent most of the last two rounds hanging on as he was mounted and battered with strikes.
The second win over Rua, last March, came after Henderson was beat up soundly for two rounds before coming back and scoring a patented one-punch knockout of "Shogun."
Often times, the power punchers are the last to leave, because their biggest physical tool – their striking strength — never really leaves them. However, their reflexes, timing and joints do.
Henderson has accomplished as much or more in MMA than any other fighter in the sport’s history. He’s also competed at the highest levels into his mid-40s.
He has nothing left to prove. However, he has plenty more to lose, if he keeps fighting.
For nearly a half decade, Henderson has struggled to win at all, and gotten hurt badly in most of his fights. It’s time for one of the sport’s toughest, most enduring, likeable, and accomplished fighters to ride off into the sunset.