UFC Fight Night 38: The Tragedy of Henderson vs. Shogun 2
If Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua is one of the greatest UFC fights in history, Hendo vs. Shogun 2 has to be one of the most tragic scenes in MMA to date.
First, let’s spin the dial back to UFC 139.
On that night, hardcore and casual fans alike were treated to a spectacular show of the human spirit.
Henderson and Rua savagely beat each other for 25 non-consecutive minutes, with neither man willing to give an inch, in a display that was a shoo-in for Fight of the Year.
Against all odds and common sense, Rua’s chin held up against punches that would’ve flattened most fighters. In turn, an exhausted Henderson staved off Rua in the “championship rounds” with an effort that just barely won him the fight on points. It was the kind of performance that so special, so rare, that it will surely never be repeated again by either man for the remainder of their lives.
That statement has grimly held up so far.
UFC 139′s main event was a thing of beauty. Sunday’s fight was a thing of misery.
At UFC Fight Night 38, more than two years and four months later, the two champions looked older, slower, and frighteningly more frail.
Henderson literally hobbled around the Octagon.
Rua could barely lift his foot for leg kicks.
No matter how you looked at it, these simply weren’t the same fighters that showed up at the San Jose HP Pavilion and brought the whole house down.
Sure, Henderson eventually won the rematch due to a pinpoint-perfect right hook, but that few seconds of brilliance doesn’t make up for the cringe-worthy atmosphere that surrounded the fight up to that point. It anything, it was like the uneasy feeling of a race about to end in a flaming wreck. Someone was going to crash, and crash hard.
Thankfully, both men walked away with their health (relatively) intact.
But even now, maybe we should at least ask ourselves “How much is too much?” for Hendo and Rua.
Dan Henderson is 43 years old.
According to FightMetric, he’s absorbed over 1000 strikes in his MMA career, a statistic that doesn’t even include 10 rounds of punishment in 1999 and 2000 during the Rings: King of Kings tournament.
Shogun Rua, despite being 11 years younger, isn’t much better off.
He’s had at least three knee surgeries in the last decade, eaten over 600 shots in his career to date, and has just suffered his first real knockout loss in brutal fashion.
After all that, it’s impossible to not be concerned every time either man steps into a cage.
Now, the anxiety of watching Henderson or Rua fight outweighs the enjoyment.
Considering that this was Henderson’s last fight on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), it’s also fair to assume he’s not going to look much better than last night.
At some point, that grim Chuck Liddell Syndrome goes into effect; that sickening feeling that one of the UFC’s older stars will eat a punch too hard, a kick too sharp, a takedown too rough. Heck, that’s probably happening already, right under MMA fans’ collective noses. But instead, most of us are asking “where Shogun goes from here” and “what’s next for Hendo” after his win.
Personally, this author isn’t sure he wants to find out.
McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in NVision, Bleacher Report, PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, MMA Mania and The L.A. Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.