Dan Henderson is one of the most decorated fighters in MMA history. The former Olympic wrestler is the only man to concurrently hold two belts from two different weight classes for a major promotion (Pride FC). He is also 1998’s UFC 17 middleweight and PRIDE 2005 welterweight tournament champion.
Fresh off his stint as coach of Team U.S. on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "U.S. vs. U.K.," he battles opposing coach Michael "The Count" Bisping this Saturday, July 11 from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada live on pay-per-view.
While the powers that be have gone so far as to state that a win over Henderson would grant opponent Michael Bisping a title shot, (rumored for November's UFC 105 in Manchester, England) they have not said the same about Henderson.
That fact is not lost on the former champion, who said on MMAmania's exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio that if he's not granted a title shot with a win at UFC 100, he'll likely head back to light heavyweight, where he feels equally as competitive.
Why cut weight when you don't have to?
We caught up with Henderson to ask him about his TUF 9 experience, what he really thinks of Michael Bisping, worthy middleweight contenders and Anderson Silva.
As expected, Henderson didn't hold back.
He thinks the UFC chose "talent" for its U.K. fighters and "good television" for its U.S. lineup, but that the ultimate success of the TUF 9 show was the "country vs. country" theme.
He also calls it "mind-boggling" that the UFC granted title shots to Patrick Cote and Thales Leites and that Silva’s last two performances "absolutely" tarnish his standing as the most dominant fighter in the game.
And what about U.K. Wolfslair’s head wrestling instructor Zach Light's claims that Bisping’s wrestling is what will win him the fight?
A "crock of shit," according to Henderson.
Check it out.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): There's been criticism that the TUF season didn't produce as many promising fighters as we've seen in years past - that guys like Ross Pearson and James Wilks aren't going to have an impact on their respective divisions as TUF veterans like Forrest (Griffin) or Diego (Sanchez), or even more recently like Nate Diaz can have in the UFC. Do you think TUF 9 is going to be remembered down the road for producing great fighters or just producing an interesting take on the U.S. vs. U.K. rivalry?
Dan Henderson: I don't know, I think the biggest thing is that it showed the U.K. guys have some decent fighters. I think I said it from the beginning, I don't know if they necessarily put America's best up-and-comers against the U.K.'s best up-and-comers. A normal thing with the TUF seasons has been to make sure that there's gonna be a good show, as well as having some good fighters - not their only concern being how well or how good these guys can fight. That kinda carried over into TUF 9, even though it was "U.S. vs. U.K."
I think the U.K. definitely had their best up-and-comers in there, and I don't think that's necessarily true about the U.S. I think the way that it went was great, because it was very competitive (and) back and forth all season. It wasn't a blowout one way or the other.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Do you think that other than perhaps DaMarques Johnson, there are any other TUF fighters who have good potential for the UFC?
Dan Henderson: Yeah, I think they do. Some of the other ones definitely have potential. It's just a matter of what they do with it, or what kind of team they start training with.
They probably have a little bit more opportunity now that they've been on that show to get with a good team and progress as a fighter. It's just a matter of what they do with it and how hard they intend to work to get there. That's the biggest thing. They have quite a bit of potential. So I think (finding the right team) would make the determination in that.
Overall, I don't know if that many people are concerned with who won which TUF season, or if they even were on the TUF show and were champions back then after two or three years down the line when they've been fighting in the UFC for a while and they get a title shot. It's not something that people are concerned with. It's a matter of what they've done since then.
For me, I don't even know who's won most of the seasons. I know Forrest won the first season; beyond that, I really couldn't tell you who's been on them and who's won them. So it's a matter of what they've done since then that I've paid attention to.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Do you think future country vs. country TUF matchups can have legs? Like, for example, could we see a U.S. vs. Brazil one day, or a Japanese team in the mix?
Dan Henderson: I think so, absolutely. I think that's a great format that they've started. If they did that, they would definitely get a lot of viewership. Brazil would be a good country to have in there and same with Japan. There's a lot of other European countries that have good guys as well. Russia's probably getting up there. It's just a matter of putting it together.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I'm sure if they could ever sign Fedor (Emelianenko) a "Team U.S. vs. Team Russia" would be a very interesting TUF.
Dan Henderson: That would be huge if they got Fedor to be a coach and signed him to a fight. But he's not interested in signing his life away exclusively to the UFC.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): While there was certainly some tension between you and Bisping from the way it was portrayed, it seemed more like a healthy level of competition and not hatred. For example, we've seen in the past with Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, they were the coaches one season; and with Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes, there was clearly some dislike there. There seemed to just be some healthy competition there between you and Bisping. Would you say that the editors' portrayal was accurate?
Dan Henderson: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's pretty much right on. We don't dislike each other. There's some mutual respect there. You know, he's not necessarily somebody I'd hang out with, just because he opens his mouth a little too much. But that's just how he is, and I don't dislike him for being that way at all. Just, he wouldn't be my first choice of guys I'd call to go hang out with.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You're scheduled to fight him here at UFC 100. What's it mean to be included on the milestone card? Does it mean anything special or is it just another card for you?
Dan Henderson: A little bit of both. It is kinda special to be a part of that. My focus is on my fight and on my fight only, and the rest of the stuff is just added bonus for the fans. It could be on any card. My job is to go out there and win and be exciting.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I've read a lot about what Bisping's been saying going into this fight. He fancies himself a technically better striker than you. Do you see this as technique vs. power matchup, or is he delusional?
Dan Henderson: The thing is I disagree that he's technically better. And he doesn't have power either.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Okay, fair enough. Rampage is now with Team Wolfslair. Do you think Bisping stands to gain anything from his association with one of your former opponents, or do you not put a lot of stake in things like that?
Dan Henderson: I don't know. Other than being a decent workout partner, I don't know any other benefit from that. (Bisping) can pretty much see everything that happened on the tape anyway.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I don't know if you follow the blogs, but Zach Light, who is U.K. Wolfslair's head wrestling coach and who trained Rampage for his fight against you, has stated that he thinks Bisping will actually take you down "more than one time in the fight ... That's how he is going to win the fight." He's really blowing up in confidence over Bisping's improved wrestling ability. It seems potentially overstated, based on what we saw in Bisping's fights vs. Matt Hamill and Rashad Evans. What's your reaction to Light's comments?
Dan Henderson: It doesn't matter, it's not a wrestling match. But I've been known to be taken down by guys that can hardly wrestle, just ‘cuz I'm trying to knock ‘em out too much. I've kinda toned that down a little bit to be a little bit more careful with my strikes so I'm not overly exposed to being taken down by somebody's who's not that great at takedowns. It just takes a little bit of being out of position defensively to get taken down.
I'm not real worried even if I do get taken down, I get up real well. I'm expecting to be on my back probably at least once in the fight. It doesn't matter. But if (Light's) stating that Bisping's going to win the fight based on his wrestling, that's just a crock of shit. I hope he's not banking on his wrestling to win this fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Can you talk a bit about your camp for this fight? Have there been any marked differences from previous camps?
Dan Henderson: No, I just focused a little bit more on my conditioning, just to make sure. In my mind, Bisping's going to run around a lot and try to outpoint me. After he gets hit hard a couple times, he might think about trying to take me down, which I think he tried against Leben and some of the other guys he fought.
He's just gonna run around and try to outpoint me and wait for me to get tired and out-condition me. That would be his only chance of winning the fight, in my mind. So I wanted to make sure that my conditioning is as good as it's ever been.
So I focused a little bit more on my conditioning than anything, and if I didn't learn anything new and didn't work on any technique, (but) I'm in good shape, I'm still going to beat him up.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I wanted to ask about your last fight against Rich Franklin. How do you gauge your performance in that fight in terms of learning from it and applying it to your overall game?
Dan Henderson: I was fairly happy with my performance, except in the third round where I kinda knew I had won the first two rounds and just let up a little bit. I injured my rib in the first part of the third round, so I just took it a little easy, which isn't like me normally in the third round. Even if I had won the first two rounds, I normally would still be looking to finish the fight. That's one thing that I won't let happen again.
Other than that ... you know, Franklin, sometimes he's a little bit hard to hit. I hit him pretty well in the first round, and after that he moved his head well. He threw a lot of kicks, which kept me off him.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Obviously the taping of TUF, for all the benefits it provides in terms of exposure to mainstream audiences, it unfortunately prevents you from fighting for several months. Does it bother you to be on the shelf for so long?
Dan Henderson: It was okay. Ideally it would have been maybe one month earlier or a month and a half or two months earlier at the most. I fought in January, so it's really six months. Normally it would be between four and five months between fights.
Bisping was on the (shelf) a couple months longer than I was. So it might affect him. He's been fighting regularly or used to that. I'm used to fighting three times a year.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Since Anderson Silva entered the UFC, he's had six devastating victories. In addition to that, he had a close win over you - you of course took the first round and are the only fighter of the bunch to win a round against him. Then he had two consecutive victories that perhaps weren't as theatrical - some would say boring - over Patrick Cote and Thales Leites ...
Dan Henderson: They were more theatrical than anything else.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well neither of those guys necessarily looked like number one contender-caliber fighters in those matches. When you first heard that those guys had been granted title shots, did you ever just roll your eyes and question what the UFC was thinking when they proposed those matchups?
Dan Henderson: Absolutely. I mean that was just mind-boggling on both those last two fights why those guys even had a title shot.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I think it was sort of the consensus from the media side too - at least the media that knows what their talking about - but I don't think it got played up enough. I feel it was just talked about behind the scenes, especially Leites - and I'm not trying to take anything away from him as a fighter, but he basically lost to Marquardt, even though he technically won.
Dan Henderson: Yeah, I don't know if I watched that fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Okay, well after Anderson fights Forrest at 205 (at UFC 101), he has just three fights remaining on his contract and has said that he plans to retire afterwards. Assuming he doesn't change his mind, fans are getting anxious counting down those last three fights, hoping them to be mega-fights. We don't want to see another Silva vs. Leites, for example.
Clearly, you want to see yourself in the mix, which I think is deserved. But beyond that, as a fan, is there anybody who you would like to see fight him, whether it's another middleweight, or a light heavyweight, or someone like GSP moving up to fight him?
Dan Henderson: Honestly, I don't really have any wishes to watch him fight anybody after his last two performances. I don't really think about it, just because he wasn't that impressive. He didn't try to fight very ... he didn't try to win - or finish any fights, I should say.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): So his last two performances, in your opinion, sort of tarnished his standing as perhaps the most dominant fighter in the game?
Dan Henderson: Absolutely, and I don't think I'm alone in that thinking. I would like to fight him just to knock him off that spot so the fans don't have to endure those kind of fights - as a title fight - anymore.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well as a fan who was there in Columbus, I watched your fight against Silva live, and there's nobody really else - besides maybe GSP moving up in weight - there's nobody else who I'd like to see fight him again at this stage than you. I think you present the most challenges for him, and I would think a second go around would produce a different result.
Dan Henderson: Yeah, I would definitely win the next time I fight him.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Dan, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us, and I wish you luck on July 11. Lastly, would you like to thank any sponsors, or do you have any parting words for your fans?
Dan Henderson: Yeah, I want to tell everybody to go to ClinchGear.com. Best shorts in MMA and some nice shirts too. I appreciate all the fans' support over the years. Hopefully I keep entertaining them well enough for them to wanna watch me fight again.