Every sport has a particular athlete who by some unknown means is still able to decimate younger opponents while far past his supposed athletic prime. Boxing had Bernard Hopkins and hell, even WWE has The Undertaker. For MMA, that athlete is Dan Henderson.
“Hendo” is perhaps the most logic-defying athlete in all combat sport. Now known primarily for his granite chin and a right hand that would put Thor’s hammer to shame, Dan Henderson transitioned into mixed martial arts after a very successful wrestling career having represented the United States in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympics as a Greco-Roman wrestler and from this he has managed to grow into one of the most dangerous one punch knockout artists in MMA history.
Few have been on the receiving end of his right hand and lived to tell the tale, and his destruction of Michael Bisping at UFC 100 has arguably become the promotion’s signature knockout. On top of this, Henderson has been at a size disadvantage in nearly every single one of his recent fights and many forget his career began as a smaller middleweight.
At the ripe old age of 41 Henderson is easily the oldest fighter in the light heavyweight title picture and has a ridiculous 17 year age discrepancy with current champion Jon “Bones” Jones who he’ll be facing in September at UFC 151.
Dan Henderson was also 11 years older than his last foe, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua who he met at UFC 139′s main event in what was certainly the best fight of the year and a serious contender for the best bout in mixed martial arts history. Henderson’s nuclear right hand found its place on Rua’s temple multiple times which culminated in a savage beating in the third during which the fight would certainly have been stopped were it not for the Brazilian’s truly immeasurable heart. Shogun reanimated in the final two rounds, hurting Henderson with an uppercut and taking him down repeatedly and though he lost the unanimous decision to Hendo, many felt it should have been scored a draw, including UFC president Dana White.
Billed as the “Pride fight that never was”, UFC 139′s bombastic main event was a spectacular return for Dan Henderson after his brief tenure in the Strikeforce promotion where he not only captured the light heavyweight title but also became the first man in MMA history to knock out Fedor Emelianenko, the former undefeated Pride heavyweight champion who outweighed him by over 20 pounds.
Henderson’s place in MMA royalty cannot be disputed, nor can his very legitimate threat to current champion Jon Jones. The UFC belt has always eluded the 41-year-old with his first crack coming in London at UFC 75 against Rampage Jackson. Henderson was ultimately denied the judges’ decision in a five round slugfest where Jackson’s size advantage helped him impose his will on a smaller Hendo, winning the grappling contest and managing to toss Henderson to the ground with seconds left in the fifth.
Henderson’s second title bout came soon afterwards at UFC 82, this time against middleweight champion and striking dynamo Anderson Silva. Henderson arguably won the first round, successfully taking the champion down and keeping him there for a substantial period using his Greco-Roman wrestling. The second round was not to Dan’s favour however, with Silva stunning him with a knee and securing a rear naked choke late in the round to retain the belt.
September 1st is his third stab at UFC gold and it comes against an opponent who arguably has more over Hendo than any of his previous challenges. Jones has an insane size advantage and more importantly age on his side, his 24 years making Henderson seem prehistoric by comparison (not that we’d ever tell him that). Bones has also defeated four previous champions and most recently bested Rashad Evans at UFC 145 and will most likely be coming into the fight with an assured confidence that only continued success can bring.
Win or lose, UFC 151 will be another day in the office for a man who has managed to compete at the highest level of his sport for over two decades. His record may not be perfect, his style certainly has holes and he’s almost old enough to be his next opponent’s father but Dan Henderson’s incredible ability to still plant that destructive right hand on chins far and wide makes him a threat to any man on the planet.
Combine this with his own iron chin and fearless competitive spirit and UFC 151′s main event suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.