UFC Fight Night is live from Natal, Brazil Sunday night, with the main card starting at 7pm EST on Fox Sports 1. The main event is a rematch of the greatest fight in history, as former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, will look to even the score against the last ever Strikeforce light heavyweight title holder, Dan “Hendo” Henderson. Fight fans should be salivating to see this dream rematch as both men are nearing the end of their careers, but this is not just some kind of legend vs. legend exhibition, it is a fight with implications that could reverberate through the division and the MMA world.
The accomplishments between Shogun and Henderson are too many to list. They both made their names in the Japanese MMA promotion, PRIDE, where they each earned titles – Henderson actually held the PRIDE middleweight and welterweight belts at the same time, the first fighter to do so in a major MMA promotion. In the early to mid 2000s, Shogun devastated opponents with vicious stomps and soccer kicks to downed opponents, while Henderson grew his reputation for having dynamite in his right hand. Not since Godzilla and King Ghidorah have two monsters won more epic battles in the land of the rising sun, as the two achieved a combined 25 victories.
The UFC eventually bought PRIDE and brought both fighters into the American promotion. For Henderson, it was a return, as he had won UFC 17’s middleweight tournament on May 15, 1998, with two decision wins. Yes, back then, fighters would fight more than once a night. In his first return run beginning back in 2007, Henderson went 3-2, finishing with a knockout of his rival and opposing Ultimate Fighter coach, Michael Bisping. That KO is still regarded today as one of the most brutal in the history of prizefighting. After that fight, Henderson left the UFC for the now defunct Strikeforce, where he won the light heavyweight title.
Shogun’s start in the UFC was marked with a loss to Forrest Griffin, but he rebounded with two wins over former champions, Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell. He was given a title shot against Lyoto Machida, which he lost due to a controversial decision. Many people, including UFC President Dana White, thought he won the match, and so a rematch was scheduled. In the subsequent fight, Shogun defeated Machida by KO in the first round, winning the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, in addition to Knockout of the Night and World MMA’s Knockout of the Year honors.
In 2011, Shogun lost the belt to current champ, Jon Jones, then avenged his loss to Griffin with a first round KO. Meanwhile, Henderson competed in his last Strikeforce fight, a heavyweight bout against one of the greatest MMA fighters ever, Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko. To qualify for the fight, Henderson had to get his weight up over 205lbs, which was a struggle, but he eventually tipped the scales at 207. With one minute left in the first round, Emelianenko pummeled Henderson with punches, knocking him to the canvas, before raining punches upon him while the crowd cheered “Fedor” repeatedly in unison. In seconds, Henderson sneakily escaped from the bottom, transitioned behind Emelianenko, and knocked him out with an uppercut from his knees, stunning the onlookers silent. It was the first time Emelianenko was stopped, as Henderson added another notch to his collection of famous knockouts.
On November 19, 2011, Henderson returned to the Octagon for the third time at UFC 139, this time to face Shogun. Although both fighters shared similar career paths, it was the first time they had ever met in competition. The match was a five-round barn burner, in which Henderson and Shogun traded knockdowns and bludgeoned each other in the greatest fight ever. It was such a tremendous display, that it almost didn’t matter who won. In the end though, the American, Henderson, had his arm raised, winning three out of five rounds on all of the scorecards over his Brazilian foe.
Now, Shogun is looking for revenge and his opportunity comes at home in Brazil.
Henderson comes into the fight on a three-loss streak, although all losses were against top opponents in Machida, Rashad Evans, and Vitor Belfort, and two of those losses were by split decision. Shogun is 2-2 since UFC 139, but in his last fight he earned Knockout of the Night honors over James Te-Huna. Shogun looks like he has lost a step, but the 32-year-old is trying to make more noise in the light heavyweight division. Henderson is 43, an impressive statistic in and of itself, and is continuing to battle against the long shadow of retirement.
Both fighters’ best days are surely behind them, and it is unlikely either of them will get a shot again at the championship, so why should fans care? They should care because the beauty of MMA is not all about titles, it is about match ups. That is how the sport began after all, as the early days of mixed martial arts focused on matching up fighters of different disciplines to see which systems were most effective. Now combatants have evolved to picking and choosing techniques from a variety of disciplines like Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, boxing, and judo, and mixing them together into an arsenal of abilities. So the match ups do not focus solely on the disciplines anymore, but rather the fighters and their mixed styles.
MMA is also about toughness, physical sure, but most importantly mental. It takes an incredible amount of discipline to go through training camp, cut weight, and battle through injuries again and again without even mentioning the contemplation of fighters on the risks and fears associated with throwing bones at another combatant for a living. Beyond that, it takes an extra measure of personal fortitude to keep plugging along through a losing streak, especially when worn down by age.
If the romanticism of the fight game is not enough, fans should note that both fighters are ranked in the light heavyweight top ten, and Shogun especially is looking to make one more serious run at a title. Also bear in mind that both Henderson and Shogun posses the power to knockout anyone in the division on any given night. It could also be the last time people see either of these two warriors in professional competition, most notably Henderson as he is incredibly long in the tooth as fighters go, but also because he is a fighter who uses testosterone replacement therapy to compete at the highest level.
TRT was just recently banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and The Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission. That ban affects many fighters, most notably Henderson, Chael Sonnen, and Belfort. The day after the ban was announced, Belfort pulled out of his scheduled and long-awaited title fight against middleweight champ, Chris Weidman, citing that he would not have the time to get off his TRT program and properly adjust before the bout. Belfort has been fighting professionally for nearly 18 years and looks as jacked as ever, so he has received much criticism for using TRT, which many consider a performance-enhancing drug. Henderson was knocked out by Belfort in his last fight, but he notes TRT is not what makes him the fighter he is, saying, “I think I get sick a little bit less and have a little more energy… but it (TRT) is not the reason I’ve done as well as I’ve done in the sport.” This fight specifically is likely the last significant milestone in the TRT era.
To his credit, Henderson has no plans to retire, even after the TRT ban goes into effect. He is under contract with the UFC for six more fights and plans to fulfill them. Whichever way fans square the situation, this fight means something. It is a continuation in each fighter’s legacy and could be the end of an era in more ways than one. It is also has the potential to be Fight of the Year again, as there’s no quit in either man and both possess incredible striking power and ground skills. There should be no lack of interest in Shogun and Henderson battling it out in this UFC rematch of the greatest fight ever.
Opinion By Matt Stinson
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