Why Dan Henderson should retire, even after impressive win

Before Saturday’s UFC main event, I’d written that all-time great Dan Henderson should retire. It had nothing to do with claiming Henderson’s skills had diminished or that he was somehow a worse fighter than he was in his prime.

They hadn’t, and he wasn’t.

Surely Henderson, at just a couple months shy of 45 years of age, has more knowledge, skill and savvy than at any previous point in his illustrious career. The problem is that line of valuable skill and knowledge gained from experience on the graph of a fighter’s career always goes up as the line of physical health goes in the opposite direction.

"Dangerous Dan" was, is and always will be great. That doesn’t mean he should fight on forever, of course.

Henderson has lost more, and more frequently, in recent years, and almost always by way of violent beatings. He’s even taken a great deal of damage to his brain and body in wins (like in both his wars with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua). 

I’d not written that Henderson should consider retirement because I no longer thought him capable of beating anyone on any given night. With his punching power, he still is and likely would be for a decade or two more, at least. 

Power is the last thing to go for fighters, after all. Timing, reflexes and brain health, however, fade years sooner.

In terms of strict health considerations, Henderson would have been wise to hang up his gloves years ago because of damage sustained over multiple hall of fame combat sport careers. The two-time Olympic wrestler likely entered MMA two decades ago with a massive amount of wear and tear.

After training camps in preparation for nearly 50 MMA fights over 18 years, Henderson has no doubt accumulated a great deal more in the practice room, alone. That says nothing of the in-competition ringing his bell has absorbed.

That’s why even a thrilling first-round knockout win over Tim Boetsch in New Orleans doesn’t change the fact that Henderson has taken more than enough damage to his body and brain to warrant retirement. Heading into Saturday’s fight, Henderson had lost five out of his last six contests. 

Before that, he won a close decision after taking a beating for the last two rounds of an historically brutal fight against Rua. Of those five losses, three were bad beatings or clean knockouts.

The trauma suffered there isn’t erased by Henderson’s impressive win against Boetsch. The bitter taste of defeat was, however. 

The one thing that has changed for Henderson because of his inspiring win, Saturday, is that he’s given himself an opportunity to go out on a high note. Such chances are rare for fighters, especially ones as game as Henderson.

Fighters usually fight for longer than is healthy for them. Often, a string of losses like the one Henderson had built up recently goes along with that.

Just as many fighters are too brave for their own good during specific fights and need referees to protect them, they can prove too brave for their own good over the course of a career. Fighters can stick around chasing increasingly elusive moments of glory, until no one employs them, or commissions find it difficult to sanction them. 

Henderson loves to fight. That’s always evident by the way he competes. 

He throws caution to the wind and throws down, hard. That’s why we love him and always will.

And, we should celebrate that he once more got to feel the thrill of winning and get on the right side of a knockout. In fact, it’s the perfect curtain call, after a peerless career.

For a guy like Hendo, it is going to be a hard transition away from fighting at 45, or at 85. Whatever makes Henderson a great fighter is inside of him, and whatever is inside him won’t ever go away.

Here’s hoping Hendo celebrates this fantastic win, satisfied in knowing and proving that he can still whip much younger and larger men. Then, he’ll hopefully come to cherish the health he’s got left, decide to leave some for old age, and not feel that he needs to chase the addictive feeling once more.

Tonight was pretty sweet, Dan. It’s not going to get much better than a 28-second knockout win in a nationally televised main event against an opponent ten years younger.