Hollywood Hendo: The Greatest of All-Time???
At this point, I hope all you fight fans out there have had the privilege of watching the five round war between Shogun Rua and Dan Henderson at UFC 139. It wasn’t only one of the greatest fights in recent history; it was one of the greatest fights in the history of MMA. Period. Each fighter seemed in dire straits on multiple occasions throughout, but somehow, Hendo and Shogun willed themselves to keep conscious, to keep pressing, and to keep fighting on. As the fight went on and the blows kept landing, I found myself standing in front of my screen reacting to every punch as if I was in the cage myself. I was in a state of MMA fanhood nirvana that is rarely reached. Some may have seen the bright lights during the various Pride Grand Prix events, or while watching Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin’s first war, but I knew this was different. I could not discern why I was so elated as Hendo’s hand was raised after the final bell. Then it hit me… I may be watching the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
Woah. I know, I know. That statement carries a lot of weight in certain circles. The names Couture, Gracie, Hughes and Liddell will immediately be thrown in my face. All of those guys are amazing vanguards of the sport, but none can mirror what Hendo has accomplished. I believe Anderson Silva is the only man on the planet that can enter the argument for the G.O.A.T. with Hendo, but that argument is for another post…
So why do I think Dan Henderson is the greatest fighter of all time? Let us start at the beginning…
Hollywood’s building blocks have always been based around his wrestling. He was a state champion in high school, eventually going on to wrestle for Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State.
His prowess on the mat allowed him to represent the United States in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, as well as the 1994, 1998, and 2000 Pan-Am games, where he won a gold medal. Throughout this period, Henderson was dabbling in MMA. He won a heavyweight tournament in Brazil in 1997, and also won two bouts on the same night in May of 1998 to capture the UFC 17 Middleweight tournament Championship.
Henderson then took his talents to Japan for the next seven years. He started his Japanese career by winning five fights over a course of two nights to win the Rings: Kings of Kings (say that five times fast…) Tournament in 1999. In those two nights he gained wins over the likes of Big Nog, Gilbert Yvel, and Babalu Sobral. After the Rings tournament, Hendo joined the Pride organization where he became one of the most decorated fighters in the history of the storied promotion.
Henderson compiled a 13-5 record in Pride, he fought in three different weight divisions, and held notable wins over Wanderlei Silva, Murilo Bustamante, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Ninja Rua, Ryo Chonan, Akihiro Gono, and Vitor Belfort. Now for the accolades… In 2005, Hendo won the Welterweight Grand Prix by winning four bouts in three nights to gain the first belt of his career.
In Henderson’s final bout of his Pride career, he knocked out Wanderlei Silva to win the Pride Middleweight title as well as avenge the first loss on his MMA resume. This allowed Dan to become the first Mixed Martial Artist to hold two titles in two different weight divisions in a major fight promotion. As Zuffa absorbed the Pride organization, it was only a matter of time until Hendo and his belts were brought back to the UFC.
Hendo experienced the first true hiccup of his career upon his return to the UFC. First, he put his Pride Middleweight belt on the line against UFC Light Heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson; not exactly the ‘welcome home’ cakewalk fight that some would expect. Jackson won a decision against Henderson to retain his UFC belt and unify it with the Pride strap. Henderson was then thrown into battle again against Anderson Silva in order to unify the Pride Welterweight belt and UFC Middleweight belt.
Henderson beat down on Silva in the first round at UFC 82. That round was widely considered Silva’s worst showing in the UFC until Chael Sonnen, “elevated testosterone levels”, and a nagging rib injury came along. Though in the second round, Silva recovered and submitted Hendo via rear-naked choke. Now beltless, Henderson jumped between Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions and won his next three bouts. The third bout came at UFC 100 against Michael Bisping, where Hendo fully represented America by knocking Bisping’s head off and then dropping an elbow on his face a la Macho Man Randy Savage (R.I.P.) in order to “shut him up”. UFC 100 was a massive event that saw two title fights featuring two of the sports “biggest” stars, but Dan Henderson walked out of the show with the biggest highlight of the night and one of the greatest knockouts in the long history of MMA.
Following UFC 100, Dan’s contract expired with the UFC. Dana White could not come to terms with Hendo on a new deal, as Dana didn’t deem it prudent to spend “Anderson Silva money”, as the phrase goes, on a 38-year-old fighter. Boy, was he wrong… Hendo then signed a deal with Strikeforce and was immediately given a shot at Jake Shield’s Middleweight title. Hendo looked strong in the first round, but seemed to gas quickly after his initial attack and lost the fight via unanimous decision. After that loss, due to his distaste for weight cutting, Hendo moved to the Light Heavyweight division. He faced off against Babalu Sobral in a number one contenders bout and Dan won with an explosive first round knockout. He then defeated Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champ Feijao Cavalcante in the third round by TKO to add yet another belt to his collection.
Henderson then jumped to another weight division to create a matchup that MMA fans had dreamt of for years. Dan moved to heavyweight in order to fight Fedor Emelianenko, the mercurial Russian legend who was one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the sport. Hendo’s “aging” hands again proved to be as powerful as ever as he put Fedor to sleep in the first round.
In early 2011, Dana White revealed that Zuffa would be purchasing the Strikeforce organization. White claimed that the promotion would still be operating separate from the UFC, but that there would be possibility for fighters from each organization to cross over. That is exactly what happened when the UFC and Dan Henderson reached a deal for Hendo to vacate his Strikeforce title and return to the organization that deemed him ‘too old’ just two years earlier. And what a return it was…
Soon enough, Hendo was booked to face off against Shogun Rua at UFC 139. Somehow these two Pride legends never managed to meet in the Japanese promotion’s heyday, and the news of the matchup had the MMA community abuzz with anticipation.
The two former champions would put on one of the greatest shows in this history of mixed martial arts, and combat sports in general. The bout started with Hendo repeatedly landing clean blows to Shogun’s head, and Shogun was seemingly at the end of his rope as he covered against the cage and Hollywood unleashed punch after punch. Living up to his name, Shogun showed his true warrior spirit and somehow remained conscious throughout the barrage. Through three rounds, it seemed as though it was all but a foregone conclusion that Hendo was going to finish Shogun. I mean, NO ONE can take that much punishment… or can they?
As the Fourth round began, it seemed as though Hendo’s gas tank was running low. Shogun summoned all of his strength and assaulted the tiring Henderson with combinations and submission attempts, but Hendo kept fighting. Henderson was visibly weakened and was doing all he could to “intelligently defend” himself and keep the bout going. Dan could barely stand in the fifth round. Shogun, equally tired, attempted to win the bout by throwing everything he could at the aging wrestler. Dan held out to weather the storm until the final bell; while still throwing wild haymakers Shogun’s way. Looking like he had just left a bar after a long night of binge drinking, Henderson wobbled and stumbled his way to Referee Rosenthal’s arms, and in the end, Henderson eeked out a decision win. Dan had to be held up as the always-excitable Joe Rogan interviewed him. Rogan proclaimed the five round battle to be one of the greatest fights in MMA history, and that statement surely holds true after the initial buzz surrounding the fight has worn off.
Dan Henderson will now be given a title shot at either Light Heavyweight or Middleweight, depending on his own preference and likely the availability of either belt holder. If he wins a UFC title at the age of 41, he will surely be called one of the greatest fighters of all time, but I believe, that right now in December of 2011, he is the greatest combatent to ever enter into Mixed Martial Arts competition. He has been consistently fighting for titles, winning tournaments, and defeating other ‘legends’ of the sport for nearly fifteen years without losing a step. At 41 years old, Hendo may have just turned in his greatest performance ever in MMA. The Greco-Roman wreslter has somehow developed a killer overhand right that has earned him thirteen knockout victories over the last decade and a half. Regardless of his next opponent, let’s hope that Hendo’s ballistic right hand still has one more explosion in it so that the greatest fighter of all time can hold UFC gold for the first time in his lengthy and legendary career.
I am all-aboard the Dan Henderson bandwagon. I truly believe he is the greatest fighter of all time. Do you agree? Who do you think is the best to ever do it? Feel free to share in the comment section!