Posted 03/24/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC Fight Night 38 Review

As Jon Anik interviewed Dan Henderson in the cage, the UFC rolled the highlight of his finish against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua again, and my girlfriend said, “I love the part where he tries to get up and falls down,” to which I responded, “Not me. It’s depressing.” Which was half-true.

It is depressing to watch a fighter on the back-end of his career put out so violently that the ensuing attempt to stand up resulted in him stepping-on-a-banana-peel falling back to the mat.* Shogun, as my friend reminded me in a text as Buffer read the intros, is only 32 years of age, but he’s followed fellow Brazilians Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in looking, in some part, five years older than his listed age.

* – It was also depressing that the cageside physician allowed Henderson to take an almost assuredly concussed Shogun by the hand and just as violently pull him up to his feet during the post-fight examination.

But the lady was right in a sense, because, to reduce myself to a Dana White cliché, fighting is awesome and fighting is violence and the rematch between Henderson and Shogun was chock full of violence. Shogun knocked Henderson down in each of the first two rounds, and, heading into the third round, Brian Stann commented that the only thing that would prevent Rua winning was his gas tank failing him. Stann apparently forgot that Dan Henderson is still has a right hand (and a TRT regimen), because a minute or so later, Henderson cracked Shogun coming out of a clinch and Franklin’d the latter’s nose.

A contingent of the MMA media lamented this rematch, feeling it couldn’t live up to the first fight. Well, it did and it didn’t. The violence, as noted, was there. The drama was there. But Shogun and Henderson were shells of the 2011 versions of themselves, and even that Rua was a reduced (though not a shell) version of the 2005 model. Even given their diminished nature, they fought on a higher level than anyone else on the card not named Jussier Formiga.

If this sounds like mish-moshed ambivalence, good job. These are the sorts of fights that make being an MMA fan so difficult: two legitimate legends of the sport brutalizing lesser versions of each other in their waning fight years in the most fantastic way possible.

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Josh Gross, formerly of Sherdog, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN, showed an uncharacteristic amount of emotion on Twitter following the main event:

I like Josh Gross. He’s a good journalist, regardless of whatever bias he may or may not have. But his Henderson love doesn’t fly given his hard-line stance against PEDs and TRT.

Gross later defended his proclamation as he always does: Henderson’s always been above board about his TRT use, which is true. But it’s a grasping argument for someone who has rallied against TRT exemptions on principle. Henderson shouldn’t get a pass if TRT has been as damaging (or potentially damaging) to the sport as Gross has claimed.

It’s hard to make definitive conclusions based on the sample size, but it’s not a stretch to say Henderson has benefited from his testosterone supplements. Prior to his Pride 33 fight with Wanderlei Silva (where he began his use), Henderson finished 8 of his 26 fights (30.8%) by KO or TKO, which includes a shoulder injury to Kazuhiro Nakamura. Since then, Henderson has finished 6 of 15 (40%) of his fights by KO or TKO against markedly tougher competition and past the age of 37.

Again, that’s an extremely small sample size, but it’s important to note. I, a millennial man with little disdain for doping in sports, agree with Gross that Henderson’s one of the greatest fighters in MMA’s young history, though the idea that he’s worthy of some silly “Rushmore” distinction is laughable,* but to ignore Hendo’s TRT use on the back half of his career is a case of willing blindness.

* – Fighters more deserving off the top of my head: Royce Gracie, Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, B.J. Penn, Jon Jones, Kazushi Sakuraba?, Rickson Gracie?, Frank Shamrock?, Chuck Liddell?, Randy Couture?

* * *

The night was full of refereeing and judging oddities. Mario Yamasaki deducted two points from Mairbeck Taisumov for repeatedly grabbing the fence. Wernei Cardoso deducted a point from Norman Parke for grabbing Leonardo Santos’ shorts (without an official warning), leading to a majority draw decision.

Most egregiously, Herb Dean, world’s best MMA referee, allowed Fabio Maldonado to tee off on Gian Villante in the third round. Maldonado had his way with him, and with two minutes left in the fight, Villante staggered around the cage, unable or unwilling to lift his hands above his waist.

If Dean’s been (rightfully) scrutinized for stopping fights too early, this was the case of him refusing to stop a fight that needed stopping. Despite winning the first round, Villante’s chances of winning the bout were reduced to a fluke injury to Maldonado, and he had given up trying to defend himself, and, instead, unsuccessfully attempted to avoid engaging with Maldonado. It was a case of a fighter being too tough for his own good, and Dean failed to recognize it.

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Jon Anik and Brian Stann were on the call for the evening. At times, I forgot they were there, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. At their best, a commentary team will provide context and analysis as unobtrusively as possible. At their worst, you’re constantly aware of them. Anik and Stann aren’t on the level of, say, “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk (NHL on NBC), but their presence wasn’t noticeable, and that’s a good sign they were doing something right.

Mike Fagan