One of the most anticipated rematches in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history took place last night (Sun., March 23, 2014) when Dan Henderson faced Mauricio Rua in the main event of UFC Fight Night 38 from Nelio Dias Gymnasium in Natal, Brazil (full results here).
Fans had been clamoring for a second fight ever since the dust settled on their UFC 139 "Fight of the Year"-winning classic in November 2011. But this time around, Henderson brought precious little of the momentum he enjoyed leading into their first fight.
The former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion had dropped three straight, including his first knockout loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 32. After testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) was banned in February, Henderson had one last chance to use the controversial treatment and add a second win over "Shogun" to his long list of mixed martial arts (MMA) accomplishments.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rua sought to win two straight for the first time in his up-and-down Octagon career. He recently changed training camps and looked stellar in his last fight, a first round knockout win over James Te Huna at UFC Fight Night 33.
Given the striking power of both of these legendary champions, this match-up was anyone's fight. Ultimately, Henderson pulled off the big win to get off the snide, adding another highlight reel knockout to his shining resume.
The fight kicked off with Henderson landing a right hand, but it wasn't at full strength. Rua controlled the center of the Octagon with some leg kicks, and both threw glancing blows. Henderson threw a low kick of his own. "Hendo" then went for a right uppercut, and Rua fought back with a knee to the body. Henderson rocked Rua with a big left hand, but "Shogun" countered with a huge flurry that had "Hendo" seriously hurt. The first round started slow but ended with a bang as Rua had Henderson mounted when the bell sounded.
"Shogun" landed a big shot when the second round began, but Henderson responded with a right hand. Rua controlled the action in the clinch until the fighters broke. A vicious exchange ensued, and Henderson missed on a messy takedown attempt. Rua uncorked a massive uppercut that dropped Henderson to the mat, but somehow he persevered. A lull in ground action saw a restart from Herb Dean, and Rua appeared to be the fresher fighter as the second round came to a close.
Henderson rushed forward with a good right hand in the third. The fighters traded shots as Rua controlled the pace. Henderson missed a takedown but landed a huge right hook, swarming Rua to earn the stoppage in a fight he was obviously losing.
It's a massive win for Henderson. He was the decided underdog against a fighter he had already beaten. For a while, he was showing his age, repeatedly nailed and perhaps even knocked out for a short time early in the fight.
But, he fought back with an extreme amount of heart, finally finding an opening for his patented right hand. Still, the knockout can't overshadow all of the deficiencies he exhibited in his game, deficiencies that he's going to have to shore up in his post-TRT fight career.
Previously ranked at No. 8, Henderson should enjoy a nice jump up the rankings. A fight against recent UFC 171 winner Ovince St. Preux, Jimi Manuwa, or even the loser of UFC 172's Phil Davis vs. Anthony Johnson bout would all make for exciting match-ups for the suddenly resurgent "Hendo."
The loss is a devastating one for "Shogun," who continues his unfortunate trend of extreme inconsistency in UFC. After so many wars in top-level bouts, it's becoming clear that "Shogun's" best days are behind him. Unfortunately, his chin can't hold up quite like it used to. He also failed to capitalize on a few different opportunities to put the iron-chinned "Hendo" to sleep.
He wasn't exactly coasting or overconfident; he just got caught with a huge right hand. Rua has yet to win two straight fights in UFC, and while there's no doubt that he's one of the promotion's most exciting fighters, his unpredictable results have prevented him from becoming one of the sport's true legends.
He'll most likely get a rebound fight against a fighter outside of the Top 15. It's do-or-die time for the heavy-hitting "Shogun."
Dan Henderson walked through danger to come back with a thunderous knockout of "Shogun" Rua at UFC Fight Night 38. It was far from "Hendo's" best performance, but the 43-year-old power puncher is now back on track after three straight losses. Can Henderson move on to defeat more of the world's top light heavyweights without TRT?