Now that’s how you get a career back on track.
On a career worst stretch of form, Dan Henderson headed in to his rematch with Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua with plenty to prove. Three consecutive losses to Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort, all of which showcased increasingly insipid performances, had many, including myself, questioning whether or not there was a future for ‘Hendo’ in the sport.
Well, for one more night at least, Henderson proved he can still cut it in the big leagues.
All talk leading in to this bout focused upon the pairs first encounter, and rightly so. Shogun-Henderson I is an all time classic and I implore anyone who has yet to see it, to make it a priority of theirs to catch up.
I’m not normally a fan of seeing these types of rematches, as the expectations placed on them are abnormally high due to the excitement the first generated, and you are invariably left feeling disappointed by the end of it, as the sequel didn’t match the original.
While Shogun-Henderson II did not quite replicate the theatrics, the second instalment was a very welcome headliner to an already stellar show in Natal, Brazil. I’m not a huge fan of what the Brazilian UFC cards have become; packed with local ‘talent’ whose only purpose in the UFC seems to be to populate these cards. They come by so fast, and with very little promotion or meaningful fights scheduled other than the main event (at a push the co-main as well), the native fighters have very little opportunity to break out of this monotonous cycle of violence they find themselves in.
Anyway, enough of that, let’s get back to the main event.
With both fighters having exchanged a respectful handshake at the in-cage staredown, we were good to go. You could tell that each fighter was wary of engaging in a battle similar to their previous encounter, and the action started at a steady pace.
Shogun began the more aggressive, landing several unchecked leg kicks that Henderson was content to wade through to try and land that one big shot. While thudding, Shogun’s kicks did little to shake Henderson’s stance or demeanour, but at the speed they connected, it’s impossible to think that they did not do any damage. This was to become the pattern of the round, and continued well in to the latter stages.
This all changed when in a fleeting exchange of punches, Shogun connected first out of the two fighters and sent Henderson tumbling to the mat with a left. Shogun followed up with tenacity in pursuit of the finish, but Henderson’s chin held out, despite a continued onslaught of punches from within his guard with just seconds left on the clock. The buzzer sounded, not that either man heard it, and it was more of a case that Shogun had run out of time, than Henderson had recovered.
The second round was a near carbon copy of the first. Shogun was landing leg kicks and circling away from Henderson’s big right hand, as well as dropping Henderson for a second time, only on this occasion it was courtesy of a Shogun uppercut having backed Henderson up against the fence. The difference being in this round was that Shogun had time to work after tagging Henderson. Shogun immediately assumed position in Henderson’s guard and looked to wail away to a finish, but Henderson had managed to clear his head in double-quick time and use all of his experience to get through the immediate test Shogun was posing, evading shots and tying Shogun up. With little action, referee Herb Dean had little choice but to stand them up and the round played out to little further action.
With Shogun clearly two rounds to the good, and Henderson offering little in attack, this felt like Shogun’s to lose, but midway through the third, Henderson made it is to win with another one of MMA’s great equalisers, the ‘H-Bomb’.
In one of the increasingly frequent, brawling striking exchanges, this time Henderson got the better of his opponent and in an instance, Shogun was on his back, having felt the full force of a right hand from ‘Hendo’. A couple hammerfists later and the fight had been waved off. Henderson experienced the glory one more time, and Shogun had a nose that only a mother could love.
This was a fun fight, and once again proved that it’s very difficult to count Henderson out of any fight with that big right hand of his, but this has only reaffirmed my belief of Henderson’s limitations, increasing frailties and lack of any meaningful future in the sport; and by that I mean title aspirations.
Henderson is no longer an MMA fighter. A former Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, Henderson fell in love with the power in his hands some time ago, but it has only been in recent years that he has chosen to abandon all other routes to victory and become a head-hunter, albeit a very successful head-hunter. This was all well and good when it worked and we got to see Henderson drop fools in brutal fashion, but with ‘Hendo’ now growing increasingly comfortable in taking two, to land one, we are seeing the granite chin being slowly chipped away.
Before his fight with Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson had never been finished with strikes and was rarely knocked down. This fight with Shogun now has ‘Hendo’s’ knockdown tally set at four in only two fights. This is a man who is 43-years old and just had his TRT taken away from him, I can’t see it getting easier, and nor can I see him employing some semblance of head movement to avoid his opponents shots while he goes a hunting.
Henderson still carries tremendous name value and is of great use to his employers in an age where certified stars and recognisable names are at a premium, but in my opinion, I would prefer to see the UFC place Henderson on the veteran circuit, similar to how they treated Randy Couture in later years. Recognisable fighters that possess the name value and favour with the fans, just not the speed of hand to cause any real damage to the consciousness.
But, to put my thoughts aside, this was a great night for MMA. One of its brightest lights that had begun to dim in recent bouts, burned bright for at least one more night.