Fans expected fireworks when former Pride standouts Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua finally met last night (November 19, 2011) in the main event of UFC 139, although something tells me they didn't expect one of the greatest fights of all time.
The two heavy-handed strikers collided with a furious force that had the HP Pavilion rocking from start to finish in a back and forth battle filled with knockdowns, H-bombs and boatloads of blood.
Henderson had all the momentum early but as the fight wore on, Shogun took over and showcased tremendous heart, although miraculously neither man could finish the other.
When it finally came time to tally the scorecards, it was ruled unanimously in favor of Henderson, the former Pride and Strikeforce champion.
So what key factors allowed him to pull out the victory? And where do both of these warriors go from here?
Henderson got off to a terrific start, blasting Rua with a short uppercut, threatening with a guillotine choke and then unloading on the Brazilian with a huge flurry of strikes while "Shogun" was forced to cover up against the fence and absorb every blow.
Rua would bounce back with a right hand that connected behind the ear and dropped Henderson, but just like his fight with Rafael Cavalcante, "Hendo" grabbed a single leg and escaped danger with the the threat of a takedown.
The pace slowed slightly in round two as both men tried to catch their breath in the clinch, but that didn't stop Henderson from unleashing one of the nastiest combinations of his storied career.
He tags "Shogun" with a probing left hand primarily used to gauge the perfect distance for his lethal right and then crushes the Brazilian with a perfect right cross to the chin.
Watch how just as Shogun covers up to protect his eyes, Henderson finds the perfect window to slip in a beautiful uppercut and he continued to press forward.
While rounds one and two were entertaining, round three was what this fight will likely be remembered for. Henderson was slightly in control but then seized it with another terrific setup for his big bomb of a right hand.
What how Henderson creates an opening for his right hand by connecting with a nice inside leg kick.
With "Shogun" off balance slightly and forced to stay directly in front of him even for a brief instant, Henderson explodes forward with a big right hook that blasts the Brazilian in the side of the head.
Shogun came within seconds of being stopped here as "Hendo" swarmed him with a huge flurry of strikes but referee Josh Rosenthal allowed it to continue.
Rua held on to Henderson for dear life in a body lock with the faint hope that the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion would be too tired to finish him off. His prayers were answered when his American opponent finally slowed down long enough to give him an opportunity to respond.
Not only did he respond, but he threatened to end the fight with a heel hook and when Henderson backed off, "Shogun" got to his feet and took him down at the end of the round, something that likely saved him from a 10-8.
From this point on, both men were exhausted, but Rua was the slightly fresher man and he showed his pure heart and determination by winning round four and then dominating round five with his offensive grappling.
Despite the fact that he had absorbed more punishment than a masochist at a dominatrix convention, Rua went to work on his clearly gassed foe with the utilization of some slick trip takedowns.
Not content to simply ride out the end of the fourth and the entire fifth rounds, Rua passed Henderson's guard like butter, actually taking the mount six total times in the final two frames.
He spent a heavy majority of the fifth round in full mount, but exhaustion and the damage absorbed had taken their toll on him as well and he couldn't put forth enough offense to force a stoppage.
Thus, the reason for the judges, who all gave the fight to Henderson 48-47 to give the former Olympian a unanimous decision. We can complain all we want about how the fifth round should have been a 10-8 and the fight should have been ruled a draw, but it will still go down as one of the most memorable, violent and dramatic fights in UFC history.
For "Shogun" Rua, he is very lucky that this fight was five rounds. If it had simply been three, it would have been a dominant clean sweep across the boards for Henderson. The extra two rounds gave him a chance to come back but he needed to be more effective early. Where were his kicks? It appeared that he got suckered into a punching exchange and while he's got heavy hands of his own, you simply don't want to go blow-for-blow with Dan freaking Henderson. If he'd been able to establish some leg and body kicks, that would have really taken some of the zest out of "Hendo's" power strikes.
Depending on how long he's going to be out of commission after a tremendous war like that, Rua has plenty of options for future opponents. Quinton Jackson called him out for UFC Japan after losing his title shot to Jon Jones and that would be a terrific rematch. Other possibilities include Strikeforce light heavyweights like Gegard Mousasi or "King" Mo Lawal, who may both be coming to the UFC soon.
For Dan Henderson, he was on fire for three rounds. He's proven time and time again that he can find creative ways to set up the huge right hand and by doing so, he's more than just a one-punch knockout artist. He set up his right hand with leg kicks, jabs, body punches, you name it. Despite knowing it's coming, it's still very difficult to actually predict when it's coming. If he has anything to work on after that fight, it's the conditioning. He was clearly exhausted in round five and that's the type of thing that could cost him if he were to fight for a title in 2012.
In regards to potential upcoming opponents, Dana White mentioned that Dan Henderson can have a title shot at middleweight or light heavyweight if he wants it, although he'd still be second in line at both weight classes behind Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans. If he doesn't want to wait, he could take on Rashad Evans and try to take his number one contender position away from him. Other than that, it would be smarter to play the waiting game for the title than take any other fight, unless perhaps a rematch were offered with Rua. That would probably do a huge pay-per-view number given the word of mouth from last night's fight.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Was this the best fight in UFC history? Or is everyone letting it get to their head since the match is still so fresh? Does Dan Henderson have it in him to potentially be the UFC champion at 185 or 205 pounds?
For complete UFC 139: "Shogun vs. Henderson" results, including blow-by-blow, fight-by-fight coverage of the entire pay-per-view (PPV) event as well as immediate post-fight reaction click here, here and here.
All gifs by Zombie Prophet via IronForgesIron.com.