Not that a stoic like Dan Henderson would look at this way, but those were some crazy f---ing circumstances he overcame on Sunday night in Natal, Brazil. Here was a 43-year old man who’d lost three fights in a row walking out in enemy territory in muggy 93 degree weather to fight Mauricio Rua, who by the way was hell-bent on revenge after all that turbulence in San Jose a couple of years ago.
Perhaps it was predictable that Shogun come out like a bull at Pamplona for ten solid minutes, goring Henderson with everything he threw at UFC Fight Night 38. Sunday was Shogun’s night, after all -- it was his party. Henderson was essentially knocked out at one point, and severely parted of wit on another. His "intelligent defense" was more theoretical than actual as he fished around for Shogun’s leg, trying to cling to something that might keep him from schlepping off towards his ancestors in Valhalla.
By the end of the second round, the game’s most famous chin was barely holding up. How much more punishment could Dan Henderson, a middle-aged man who woke up to the shouts of his cornermen to drop that "H-bomb" whenever he saw Rua flash that jab, take in this young man’s game?
Not much more. But he still had punishment to dish out.
Henderson coolly landed a clean, resounding short right cross that dropped Shogun where he stood on a clinch break in the third round. It was a spectacular knockout not only for how crisp it landed (think of his KO of Michael Bisping but in a phone booth), but for how sudden it turned the tables, and how arbitrary it made everything that stood before it. It cancelled out all things at once; from the tides of momentum going against him to the eulogies the writers were drawing up in his inevitable retirement to the decibel levels in Natal. A few of hammerfist follow-ups and Shogun was done.
Henderson, improbably, defied everything at once to score that victory.
"[Shogun] definitely dinged me a little bit," Henderson said in a classic Henderson understatement afterwards. "He definitely rang my bell in the first round also and again in the second. I just decided to be patient. I think I was a little too patient the first two rounds. I wasn’t very offensive. That third round we both decided to get after it and leave things where we left the last fight."
All of these things are of course what makes Dan Henderson a fight game marvel. It’s not just that he’s a quadragenarian in a twentysomethings game -- besides, his rap is that he takes potions (TRT) to better meet the playing field -- it’s that it’s like he doesn’t care all that much. He just shows up and tries to punch holes in the thing in front of him. Sometimes it’s Fedor Emelianenko. Sometimes it’s Rich Franklin or Wanderlei Silva. Sometimes it’s Mauricio Rua. And sometimes, like what happened his previous outing in Brazil, it’s Vitor Belfort, where he ends up the one getting asked what month it is.
Whatever. Henderson is sort of always an octave below the excitement level, totally even keel and thinking about some barbecue or other. He gets socked good in the first two rounds and is on the verge of collapse and says he was "dinged up." When he spits into a can it makes a sharp ping. This dude makes chaos feel casual, and that is a pretty neat trick.
Of course, the Shogun victory staves off the inevitable. Nobody’s going to demand Henderson walk away now, and, with a new UFC contract, he won’t. He’ll fight again, probably before his 44th birthday in August. There will be queries into the TRT to TNT exchange rate, particularly now that he was fought in the last bout where testosterone exemptions are to be doled out (at least in Brazil and Nevada).
But, then again, he put TRT aside for Rashad Evans in Winnipeg and didn’t get all bent out of shape about it. He lost, but didn’t issue too many excuses. You get the feeling he’ll show up one way or the other, and just sort of throw out an "it is what it is" when people press. There will be more Hendo fights one way or another. How many more, who knows, but his defiance as of Monday -- of age, of circumstance, of common sense -- knows no bounds.
And if Sunday night’s knockout of Shogun Rua ends up being his last good hurrah, he certainly made it a memorable one. Not that, you know, you’d ever catch Hendo using a word like hurrah.