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Climbing Back: exclusive UFC 88 interview with Dan Henderson

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Dan Henderson Interview

Despite the fact that the UFC Middleweight Champion of the World, Anderson Silva, has called Rich Franklin his toughest opponent in the Octagon to date, a lot of fans see through it as a show of respect to the former UFC champion. Instead, they point to Dan Henderson as having the best showing against the champ thus far.

Henderson looked to have decidedly won the first round. He took Silva down and nearly smothered him for the better part of two and a half minutes.

However, things changed significantly midway through the second round. Silva was able to land some shots that dropped Hendo, where the champ was able to take his back and secure a rear naked choke. Henderson tapped with just 10 seconds left on the clock, leaving many fans to wonder what would have happened, had he survived the round.

Now 22-7 with wins over Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, "Minotauro" Nogueira, "Babalu" Sobral, "Ninja" Rua, Murilo Bustamante, Ryo Chonan and many more, Dan Henderson faces the challenge of climbing back up the middleweight ladder to gain another title shot.

He’ll first have to face rising submission master Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares (8-1), who recently submitted Ivan Salaverry at UFC 84 with a sick armbar that should make any highlight reel out there. The two will face off on Saturday, September 6 at UFC 88: "Breakthrough."

It’s a fight Henderson was hoping would go to a bigger name. In fact, Hendo would have preferred to fight an opponent like Rich Franklin. The bigger the name, the closer you get to a title shot.

When I caught up with Henderson, he shed some light on his fight with Silva, his upcoming opponent, and the reasons he misses PRIDE.

Adam Wagner ( I first wanted to get your take on the whole middleweight/light heavyweight thing. I’ve read on more than one occasion that you reportedly would prefer fighting at 205. Is this true?

Dan Henderson: Well, I prefer not to cut weight, and I compete just as well there as I do at 185, so …

Adam Wagner ( So it’s just because cutting weight sucks?

Dan Henderson: Well, I have fun fighting no matter what. But I do just as well at 205 as I do at 185. So yeah … just cutting weight isn’t the funnest thing to do.

Adam Wagner ( Did the UFC ask you to stay at middleweight for the time being?

Dan Henderson: No, they didn’t ask. I told them that I wanted to try to get a rematch with Anderson Silva. So they left me down at that weight class, but they didn’t give me an opponent that would expedite that … just because nobody knows him. Not because he’s not tough, just because nobody knows him.

Adam Wagner ( So do you think that that’s going to hinder your chance of getting back into the title shot picture?

Dan Henderson: Well, I definitely need to win no matter who I fight. And this guy’s just as tough as anybody else in the UFC. But he’s not well-known, so no, it won’t bump me up that quickly.

Adam Wagner ( Would you have preferred to have fought Rich Franklin, which was rumored?

Dan Henderson: Yeah. I’d prefer to fight the big-name guys. That’s why I’m in the sport, to test myself against the top guys.

Adam Wagner ( Well let’s talk briefly about your fight with Silva. You looked great in the first round. You took him down and looked to be nearly smothering him for about two and a half minutes of Round One. He looked clearly frustrated. What was your strategy going into that fight?

Dan Henderson: Take him down, beat him up. I felt that I should have been able to do that for five rounds, but something happened, and my body felt a little bit tired and fatigued that second round. So I didn’t go after that takedown like I should have.

Adam Wagner ( Was he making adjustments in the second round, then, that prevented the takedown?

Dan Henderson: No, I had a pretty good opportunity to do it. You know, he’s not going to be a really easy guy to takedown in a fight — nobody is. I think it was me just letting the opportunity go, and waiting for the next opportunity, and I shouldn’t have.

Adam Wagner ( By the time Silva secured the choke, there was less than 20 seconds left on the clock, and you eventually tapped with just 10 seconds left. Were you aware of how much time was on the clock, and would it have mattered at that point, meaning would you have lasted another 10 seconds before losing consciousness?

Dan Henderson: No, I wasn’t aware of it, but I don’t know if it would have mattered anyway. Once that’s in, it don’t take long at all. Even if I didn’t tap, I would have been out in a second or two anyway. But you never know.

Adam Wagner ( Let’s talk about your upcoming opponent. Rousimar Palhares is one of the fastest rising talents of the Brazilian Top Team. You’re no stranger to fighting opponents who are, or once were, associated with that organization (I’m thinking of Bustamante, the Nogueira brothers, Ricardo Arona, etc.). Do you get any extra motivation when fighting a guy from a team like that? Are there any grudges associated at the team level for you?

Dan Henderson: No, I don’t hold grudges with anybody. It’s a sport, and I’m aware of that. I don’t really have any dislikes toward anybody. I respect all the fighters out there. It’s a fight, and obviously I don’t want to lose to anybody.

Adam Wagner ( Palhares has very dynamic submissions and will clearly prefer this fight on the ground, I’m assuming.

Dan Henderson: I’m assuming that too.

Adam Wagner ( (Laughs) But just because he is so dangerous on the ground, is that going to preclude you from taking the fight to the ground, or do you think you can over-power him no matter where the fight goes?

Dan Henderson: Typically, unless the guy is really good on his feet, I like to stand up. That’s usually my best chance of finishing an opponent. I would normally, even if the guy wasn’t all that good on the ground, I would stand with him and try to finish the fight with a knockout.

I’m definitely aware of his danger on the ground and his submissions. That’s something I’m not going to play to in his strength, but I’m also not afraid to be there. The fight will end up there, and I’m not afraid to be there. But my best chance of finishing the fight is standing up. And his only chance of finishing a fight is on the ground.

Adam Wagner ( You’re listed as 6’1" and Palhares is listed as 5’8" —

Dan Henderson: I’m not 6’1". No, I don’t have no idea where the hell that number came from. I’m 5’11".

Adam Wagner ( Okay, well, there is still some height advantage there, and I’m assuming a potential reach advantage. Do you think that kind of thing will help you in this particular fight for what you want to do?

Dan Henderson: Obviously it’s always nice to reach a guy from a little bit farther away, but who knows? Couldn’t tell ya. I’ll let you know afterwards.

Adam Wagner ( How important is a win for you at this point? Is this a make or break situation?

Dan Henderson: I’m not going to retire if I lose, if that’s what you mean by "make or break." Either way, I don’t plan on losing any fights. Just because of the fact that I’ve lost my last two doesn’t make me try harder to not lose this one. I was giving it my all in my last two. But I’m a little bit angry at my own performance in my last fight especially, so I’ve learned from some mistakes and just want to make sure I’m aggressive in this fight and definitely try to finish it the whole time.

Adam Wagner ( So you’re not planning on going anywhere anytime soon?

Dan Henderson: No.

Adam Wagner ( Since moving back to the UFC from PRIDE, do you think there’s been any noticeable difference in the level of competition, or have you noticed any problems adjusting to the Octagon, as opposed to the ring?

Dan Henderson: Yeah, it’s taken a little bit of time to get used to the Octagon. But as far as talent goes, I think it’s already spoken for itself as far as who the UFC’s champions are. PRIDE had some top guys. Nogueira’s in there as the champ, and he wasn’t even the champ in PRIDE anymore. Quinton Jackson was in there for a while, and obviously he just lost. Anderson Silva had lost in PRIDE and got booted out of there, and now he’s the UFC champ.

I just think that the fighters are tough anywhere, and that’s what I’ve always said. PRIDE just happened to pull more from an international group of fighters, and I think in that respect, they had a little bit tougher competition. Plus, most of the time there, they had just two weight classes …

I’ve always said that the fights are pretty much the same, but PRIDE just put on a better show, production-wise. And that was the main difference. I miss PRIDE because of that. Other than that, I think the fighters are just as tough in the UFC. They’re tough anywhere now.

Adam Wagner ( Silva is next due to fight Patrick Cote. How do you see that fight going?

Dan Henderson: I just don’t see anything Cote would be able to do to Anderson. I think his biggest problem has been his submission defense and his takedown defense, and that’s not Cote’s specialty.

Adam Wagner ( I’ve been reading Randy Couture’s new book, Becoming the Natural. Obviously, you appear in the book significantly, as Couture talks about the two of you entering the fight game together and starting Team Quest. Have you had a chance to read the book?

Dan Henderson: No, I haven’t.

Adam Wagner ( Have you talked to him about it at all?

Dan Henderson: No, I haven’t done that either. I’ve been pretty busy training. I just haven’t got a copy of it yet.

Adam Wagner ( Well he talks a bit about how Olympic wrestling competition helped him prepare for mixed martial arts. I was wondering if you see anyone from the Beijing Olympics making a successful transition to MMA, like Ben Askren or somebody like that.

Dan Henderson: Yeah, absolutely, I think a lot of those guys could definitely make that transition well. It’s just a matter of if they commit to wanting to do it. Once they do, it’d be great if they got in a camp that came from that same background of wrestling.

I’ve already done trial and error on a lot of Greco and wrestling techniques, and I know what stuff to not even bother with already. So I can definitely relate to them and help weed out the techniques that aren’t good for MMA. So any gym like that is what they should be getting into.

After this fight, I’m definitely going to be talking to some of the guys — the wrestlers — and seeing who has an interest in that.

Adam Wagner ( Have you been approached by anyone yet?

Dan Henderson: Um … not really. Not really.

Adam Wagner ( Well, Dan, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. I also wanted to give you an opportunity to see if you have any parting words for your fans, or if you wanted to thank any sponsors that we can plug on the site?

Dan Henderson: Yeah, I always appreciate the fan support of myself and of the sport. I’m always continuing to try and be exciting. Check out

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