The more distance we put between ourselves and UFC 139’s classic main event, the more it begins to feel like our initial impression was right on the money.
No, we were not just caught up in the moment. No, we weren’t overstating the case. Given a few days to think it over, it seems like Dan Henderson’s five-round win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua last Saturday in San Jose really might have been the greatest fight in UFC history. If it wasn’t, I don’t know what was.
Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar in the finale of “The Ultimate Fighter,” season one? Nope. Hendo vs. Shogun was even more of a rollercoaster ride.
Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II at UFC 52? Nah. Shogun vs. Hendo was even more epic.
Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79? Hardly. Hendo vs. Shogun had even more firepower.
This fight was the rarest of all things – a five-round war that lived up to its billing. Henderson may have exited with the judges’ verdict in hand, but many people continue to argue it should have been scored a draw and, really, there was no loser here.
In his first fight back in the UFC in more than two years, Henderson went to battle with Rua for 25 minutes and emerged as a likely top contender in two different weight classes – middleweight and light heavyweight.
What is more, he further cemented his status as one of the sport’s all-time greats, perhaps doing even more for his reputation than his previous win over Fedor Emelianenko at heavyweight. At this point, Hendo can pretty much write his own ticket, and that’s a good place to be for a 41-year-old fighter who wants to string together a few of the biggest bouts he can find before walking away for good.
Shogun, meanwhile, did more than enough to prove he’s still got it amid mounting knee surgeries and defeats in three of his most recent seven fights. His title bout loss to Jon Jones at UFC 128 and a path fought with injury had raised recent questions about whether he was still a top flight fighter. After UFC 139, we can say with all confidence that he is, albeit a little undersized for the light heavyweight division.
He looked cooked during the first round against Henderson, but hung around long enough to turn the tide and by the end was obviously the fresher fighter. If MMA fights came any longer than five rounds, he certainly would’ve won. As it stands, he might have also accomplished more in terms of fans’ view of him in this loss than he did in his most recent win, over Griffin and UFC 134.
Henderson will now wait to choose his next step. Jones is already booked to defend his title against Lyoto Machida in December at UFC 140, so a spring meeting with Henderson seems like it might work out just fine.
Middleweight champ Anderson Silva is still nursing a shoulder injury and then likely headed for a second meeting with Chael Sonnen in June. The good thing about Henderson-Silva though, is that it’ll wait awhile. No need to rush that one.
Shogun’s path is a little less clear. Will he next meet up with one of the 205-pound division’s up-and-comers? Someone like Ryan Bader or Alexander Gustafsson perhaps? Or will he take heed from this fight and think about dropping to the 185-pound division, where he might really revitalize his career?
Whatever happens, these two guys etched their name into UFC history last weekend. If there was ever a better fight in the Octagon, it’s been four days and we still can’t think of it.