Dan Henderson vs Shogun Rua proves that winning isn't everything


In the moment after Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson put on one of the greatest MMA fights of all-time, most of us were basking in the glow of 25 minutes of unbridled ultra-violence, having born witness to the greatest example of the indomitable human spirit.

"Shogun" weathered a brutal assault from "Hendo" in the early rounds, including several "H-bombs" that have flattened lesser fighters, to come back in the fourth and fifth rounds to lay a savage beating on his foe.

The heart required for both fighters to go through five rounds of that exhausting match cannot be easily imagined.

And yet, after those moments had dissipated and the scorecards were being arranged, that magic disappeared and all we cared about was the numbers? Who, among these two heroic men, had won in some arbitrary ranking system compiled by three people of all the people who watched the fight?

The answer, as we know, was Dan Henderson via scores of 48-47 across the board. Which doesn't do a lick of justice for that epic battle. And it's not a matter or arguing the score, since that's not the point I'm making.

Nick Diaz once said that he felt he'd never lost a fight because he didn't understand the scoring system, and at the end of every fight, he was always standing, ready to go one more. He's right (and he proved it in the hospital with Joe Riggs).

Although we've modified the rules of combat for MMA to make for a scoring system — although what it's based on seems completely arbitrary and unexplainable as evidenced by inconsistent judging — and limited rounds to between three and five, five-minute segments, I think we're missing the basic point of a fight.

The objective isn't to win on points, although unexciting fighters like Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch have made a career out of that. The point is to defeat the other man or, failing that, to impose your will on the man until you're the one standing at the end.

By that criteria, "Shogun" was clearly the winner of the UFC 139 main event. Although he lost the early rounds, he took control in the final two, and it would be silly to suggest that Henderson was anything but utterly and wholly defeated at the end of the fight. Sure, he won on points. Sure, he won on "damage." But at the end, one man was on top of the other, and that man was "Shogun."

Some people would suggest that it doesn't matter, since that's not how MMA works. Fights are broken into rounds and "Hendo" clearly won the early rounds, in dominating fashion. And that's true, if all you care about are the rules of MMA. But I suspect we don't all watch MMA for the sole reason of counting 10-9 rounds.

Fighting, in and of itself, is one of the last true, raw, primitive displays of man against man, and MMA is one of its most unadulterated forms without the risk of death or permanent injury. We watch the fights to see who can withstand the most punishment, mete it out in kind, and dominate his opponent in the cage, both physically and mentally.

We watch for the moment when the proverbial immovable object meets an unstoppable force and one man breaks mentally, surrenders, and submits to the power of the other. We don't, or shouldn't, care whether some judge felt it was worth 48-47.

Do I care that Rua "lost" his fight against Henderson? No. I think both men gained respect for each other, showed their mettle and bravery and heart to the MMA world, and in the end they stood as equal champion combatants at the end, war weary as they both were.

Those are the fights I live for. That's why I watch MMA. That's why I don't care who won.

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