It must be nice to have a right hand like Dan Henderson’s. It’s a Get Out of Jail Free card, a lottery ticket and a lucky rabbit foot all rolled into one. It allows you to do all the wrong things at the most inopportune times, and still you’ve got a chance to win.
It’s the kind of thing that might turn a lesser man lazy. For Henderson, the worst thing it does is keep him grinning with the same lingering, unreasonable hope. People keep trying to tell him that 43 is too old for a professional fighter. He keeps shrugging his shoulders as if, in theory, he might agree. That right hand, though. It has other thoughts on the situation.
You watch the first two rounds of Henderson’s (30-11 MMA, 7-5 UFC) main event bout against Mauricio Rua (22-9 MMA, 6-7 UFC) at Sunday’s UFC Fight Night 38 event, and it’s hard to make the argument that he has any business winning this fight. His legs aren’t there. His wrestling is of the desperate, back-up plan variety. His leg kicks look like something he’s trying for the first time, and his footwork reminds you of a man trying in vain to pick a dry path through a muddy field.
No wonder he got dropped in the first. The fact that he remained conscious long enough to get dropped again in the second seemed like a minor miracle. Still it felt more like a stay of execution than a last-minute pardon.
Then came the third round and that right hand. What happened to “Shogun” Rua’s nose at about that time, well, I think we can all agree it was a damn shame.
What we might have a harder time agreeing on is what any of this means for Henderson, or even Rua, for that matter. With Henderson riding a three-fight losing streak coming into this fight, and Rua up and down like the Russian stock market, this rematch had taken on a just-for-the-hell-of-it vibe that was not at all unsatisfactory for a Sunday night event on cable TV.
It was a fight that promised to be fun, though likely not as fun as its predecessor. Then Henderson spent the first two rounds looking suddenly very old and the third round looking, at least in one brief flash, like his former self, and now we don’t know what to think.
Is “Hendo” back, in any meaningful sense of the word? No, not really. Without a fountain of youth and a sack of nickels to swing, there’s no good reason to think he’s got any real hope of making a run at the UFC light-heavyweight title, and that’s fine. What he can do is what he did on Sunday night in Brazil, which is show up to brawl, maybe take a few lumps on the head if necessary, then look for every opportunity to drop the H-bomb.
Surely there’s a place for that, especially in today’s UFC, which will soon be running a couple events a week plus a Saturday afternoon matinee. Henderson can pack them in on pure nostalgia value, not to mention the very real possibility that he might knock some guy’s nose into the back of his throat.
That’s what Henderson has got going for him these days: old-school toughness and knockout power, the prizefighter’s built-in mulligan. Those are also usually the last things to go for an aging fighter, which is cruel in its own way. The toughness keeps him from admitting any sort of lasting defeat, and the power gives him permanent hope that he’s only one swing away from being back on top.
A fighter like Henderson, he could go on for years this way. He has. He probably will, if given the chance.
For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 38, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
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Check out John Morgan’s instant analysis on UFC Fight Night 38: