Exclusive: Why Henderson Chose Strikeforce

By Loretta Hunt Dec 8, 2009
Former UFC middleweight Dan Henderson spoke with Sherdog.com just minutes after the announcement that he’d jumped promotions and signed a four-fight, 16-month deal with rival organization Strikeforce. Henderson, who had co-headlined four of his last five appearances in the UFC, negotiated with both promotions until last Friday.

Sherdog.com: Why did you pick Strikeforce over the UFC?
Henderson: The decision was based on a number of things. It wasn’t just a financial thing. It was the fact that I felt I wasn’t getting the fight that I wanted in the UFC. That was a big part of that -- that I wasn’t and that it got yanked away from me. I think I stepped up for the UFC a number of times and had earned that right again for a title fight. And the fact that publicity-wise, CBS offers quite a bit more than a pay-per-view and Spike TV.

Sherdog.com: In September, you sat down with UFC owners Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White in Las Vegas and confronted them about being passed over for the next middleweight title bout against Silva. How did they respond?
Henderson: The fight got pulled from me and was offered to Vitor (Belfort). I met with them after Vitor fought Rich Franklin. I told them that it does irritate me. I said, ‘Why does Vitor get to jump the line when there’s me and (Nate) Marquardt here who can both fight for a title shot and Vitor’s never fought for the UFC at 185? He jumps the line, especially since I beat him.’ They acted surprised that I’d even fought him. They weren’t up on those details at the time. It jogged their memory, but either way, to put someone in there that I dominated not that long ago…

Sherdog.com: You’re the first top-ranked UFC fighter to leave that promotion and join Strikeforce’s ranks. What do you think this says about the current climate of the sport?
Henderson: Obviously, I was fighting in Pride for a long time and I’ve never been one to really jump ship. Had I felt a little bit more, I don’t know… I was planning on finishing my career in the UFC. When I signed with the UFC, that’s what I was planning on doing. I think that whatever transpired or how they handled me just didn’t work out at present. Especially for me at this point in my career, it was definitely Strikeforce. I don’t know what that says about the climate of the UFC. I think that they need to really respect the fighters a little bit more.

Sherdog.com: At one point during renegotiations Dana White stated that you were trying to become the highest paid fighter in the UFC --
Henderson: I don’t know what anyone else makes, but didn’t he make a comment after that a couple of weeks later that I was upset about what Tito (Ortiz) makes? I have no idea what Tito makes. So, if I’m trying to be the highest paid fighter, why would I be upset about what Tito makes? These are his own comments contradicting themselves. Either way, I don’t know what Tito makes and I didn’t really know where I was on the totem pole over there, but I felt like I wasn’t getting fair market value for myself.

Sherdog.com: How did the UFC’s banning of your clothing brand, Clinch Gear, from their events affect renegotiations?
Henderson: Well, at least I’ll be able to have Clinch Gear on in the cage when I fight for Strikeforce. The banning didn’t really affect anything though. When the UFC called and said that we could no longer sponsor (other fighters), that we were banned from the UFC, I wasn’t mad at all. It was more funny to me than anything that they would do that. Dana has stated to me that it was nothing personal and that there were no hard feelings at all. If there were no hard feelings, why would they ban a clothing line? We already had a deal; we were paying for the right to sponsor guys just like every other sponsor was. For them to come back and say just because Dan hasn’t re-signed a deal yet, we’re banned.

Sherdog.com: Does that play into your comment earlier that they need to respect fighters more?
Henderson: Absolutely. Things like that aren’t necessary and for them to do that in the middle of negotiations doesn’t make me feel respected. It’s more of a strong-arm tactic and a lot of people turn the other way when that happens. To me, it was just funny. I didn’t take it personally, but it just seemed a little contradictory to the ‘no hard feelings’ thing.

Sherdog.com: How did the Strikeforce negotiations play out in comparison to the UFC renegotiations? You were talking to both promotions at the same time.
Henderson: Yeah, I was to a point. I wasn’t going back and forth to them saying, ‘Hey, so and so is paying me this. Pay me more.’ I didn’t want to do that at all. I don’t think that’s the right way to do things, so basically I was just looking at the offers. I have to be honest, Strikeforce was a little slow in getting back to me on certain things, only because Scott Coker got sick for a couple of weeks and was a little hard to get a hold of. He didn’t want to pass the negotiations over to anyone else. Other than that, everything went great and Scott Coker was very respectful and excited the whole time. I was sincere with negotiating with them obviously because I signed, but I wasn’t just using them to get the UFC to pay me more. Dana was pretty cool throughout negotiations with the UFC. He was OK to deal with. We were pretty much just at a standstill. I thought I was worth more and they didn’t. It was nothing personal really.

Sherdog.com: The critics of this move might say you’re leaving the elite of the sport to go fight lesser competition. How would you respond to that?
Henderson: It’s questionable. Where is (Gegard) Mousasi ranked in there? He might be the guy to beat Anderson Silva up. And obviously Fedor (Emelianenko) is unscathed and has proven that he is probably the top heavyweight in the world. Jake Shields has never fought in the UFC. I think that Strikeforce has a lot of great matchups for me. I’m in this sport not just for the money, but I love the challenge of it. Those three guys are great challenges for me and Strikeforce has quite a few guys that are really top at 185 and above. Their roster is growing rapidly with top guys, not just lower-level guys.

Sherdog.com: Why do you think every fighter wants to fight Fedor Emelianenko?
Henderson: I don’t know. To me, he’s not the reason I signed with Strikeforce just to fight him -- although that is interesting and appealing to me to be able to challenge myself against him. I don’t know who else wants to fight him, but I do know the fans like to see him fight. He’s very effective and likes to finish guys and does a very good job. I think him and I would make an interesting matchup.

Sherdog.com: Do you think you can beat Emelianenko?
Henderson: I think I can beat anyone on any given day. It’s just a matter of making sure that everything is right with that day.

Sherdog.com: How do you look back on your UFC career?
Henderson: I always enjoyed watching the UFC and had good experiences fighting there, so I have nothing bad to say about them. I just think that for me, at this point in my career, maybe it just wasn’t a good matchup for them and me. We were at a sticking point on certain things and maybe they think I don’t have too many years left, so why would they put a lot of stock in me. Who knows?

Sherdog.com: What are your goals now, having signed on for four fights with Strikeforce?
Henderson: I’m planning on fighting more than four fights. I can tell you that. I couldn’t tell you what the future holds. It changes pretty quickly. Like I said, I thought I was going to end my career in the UFC and this came up and obviously I went in a different direction than I thought I was going to. I couldn’t comment on the future and who knows what’s going to happen with Strikeforce? I think that they have great opportunities and have the potential to bring a lot of new fans to the sport and I’m pretty much at the forefront of that. That’s appealing to me.


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