I originally was going to write a post with the headline “What Should the UFC Do With Dan Henderson?” Then I realized that was the wrong question. I was going to suggest that the UFC should match Henderson against Lyoto Machida, but according to Mike Chiappetta of MMA Fighting, Dana White offered Machida as an opponent to Henderson. Henderson turned down the fight, and White apparently is at his wit’s end trying to figure out what to do with Henderson, who wants to fight for a title, but wants to fight soon. Unfortunately, both light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones and middleweight champion Anderson Silva are tied up.
The course for the UFC is really quite simple: if Henderson doesn’t want to fight Machida, then he’s just going to have to wait. But what should Dan Henderson do? Right now, Henderson finds himself in a somewhat similar position to Rashad Evans about 18 months ago. Evans was the clear number one contender to the light-heavyweight title, but then-champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was injured, forcing Evans to make a choice: wait for the title shot, or take a fight in the meantime? Evans chose to wait, and it backfired, as Evans himself got injured, and ended up fighting Tito Ortiz after 15 months between fights.
For that reason, I think Henderson should fight now, even if he risks his status as top contender in the process. Henderson is currently 41 years old, and has been competing in professional MMA for 15 years. Even if he’s blown the 9-year rule to smithereens, there’s only so long an athlete like Henderson can reasonably be expected to compete. I would argue that, at most, Henderson has two years left before his athleticism erodes and he is no longer able to compete at a high level. Time is his worst enemy. If Henderson waits for a title shot, only to get injured as soon as he’s given the opportunity, he might just run out of time.
For those who would bring up Randy Couture as an example of a fighter competing at a high level well into his 40s, I would say two things. First, Couture only started competing in professional MMA at 34 years old, meaning that he didn’t have nearly as much wear and tear on his body as the typical 40-something fighter. Second, in my opinion, Couture was unable to compete at a high level beyond the age of 44 anyway. After that time, Couture was 3-3. His wins were a controversial decision against Brandon Vera, and wins over Mark Coleman and James Toney.
The clock is ticking on Dan Henderson’s career. I don’t blame him for wanting to wait for a title fight, because he would be putting his top contender status at risk, but I consider it just as risky to wait for a fight that may never happen if one of the fighters involved suffers an injury. Henderson’s legacy is firmly cemented as one of the best MMA fighters of all time, as the only major multiple weight class champion in MMA history, and as a fighter who was able to compete against elite competition for a very long time. Certainly, Henderson would love to add a UFC title to that list, but given the short amount of time he probably has left, I would advise him to fight as soon as possible, and hopefully he’ll get his title shot soon after that.