Could this be the final fight in Dan Henderson’s decorated career? | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Twenty five unforgettable minutes were not enough to settle their score.
Mauricio Rua will face Dan Henderson in an anticipated rematch in the UFC Fight Night 39 main event on Sunday at Nelio Dias Gymnasium in Natal, Brazil. Henderson defeated “Shogun” by unanimous decision at UFC 139 in November 2011, their five-round war regarded by many as one of the year’s best fights.
Henderson will climb into the cage in the throes of the first three-fight losing streak of his storied career. The 43-year-old former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder last appeared at UFC Fight Night 32 in November, when he was felled by a violent first-round head kick from Vitor Belfort; he had never before been stopped by strikes. His place in MMA’s pantheon of all-time greats secure, Henderson wields one of the sport’s most enduring resumes, with wins over Belfort, Rua, Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Murilo Bustamante (twice), Renato Sobral (twice) and Michael Bisping, among others. The Team Quest co-founder owns a 6-5 mark inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Rua, meanwhile, rebounded from back-to-back losses to Alexander Gustafsson and Chael Sonnen with a spectacular one-punch knockout against James Te Huna at UFC Fight Night 33 in December. Once hailed as the world’s premier light heavyweight, the 32-year-old Brazilian has not recorded consecutive wins since he beat UFC hall of famers Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell three months apart in 2009. Always an effective finisher, Rua has secured 19 of his 22 career victories by knockout or technical knockout.
The UFC Fight Night 39 lineup supplies plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: Were it not for Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, Rua’s five-round battle with Henderson could have easily been the “Fight of the Year” for 2011. Can this rematch possibly live up to that classic first encounter?
Knapp: It would be difficult -- if not impossible -- for these guys to match the exploits of that November night more than two years ago if they were in their primes. As it stands, Henderson turns 44 later this year, and Rua has accumulated an alarming amount of damage on his body. Another brawl may very well unfold, but I cannot envision a scenario in which either man can endure the kind of punishment that was exacted at UFC 139.
Whitman: Like their first fight, this is another tough match for me to call. If you put a gun to my head, I would take Henderson to score another decision win. Who you got?
Knapp: I think “Shogun” stops it in the middle rounds. It will be interesting to see how Henderson handles the trauma of the brutal knockout he suffered against Belfort. As we saw with Chuck Liddell at the end of his career, once the KO losses start, they can snowball in a hurry. Henderson needs to finish this one early. Otherwise, I think he is in trouble.
Whitman: It seems likely that this will be the last fight where Henderson is allowed to use testosterone replacement therapy, although plenty of states -- namely, New Jersey -- have not yet adopted Nevada’s blanket TRT ban. The veteran just signed a new contract with the UFC, but he has lost three straight fights for the first time in his career. How much longer do you expect the 43-year-old to stay active?
Knapp: I think at this stage, Henderson has to live a fight-by-fight existence. If he loses to Rua, it would not surprise me at all to see him walk away. Father Time always wins.
Whitman: Rua managed to avoid his third straight loss by nuking Te Huna in just 63 seconds in December. That result quieted some of the rumors that he would eventually head to 185 pounds, but I think that possibility could still exist for him given the monsters at the top of the division. At which weight would you like to see Rua compete at moving forward?
Knapp: I think he would be better served staying at 205. The quality of the division in terms of depth has shrunk noticeably over the past two years. I also doubt a 20-pound weight cut to middleweight would be in Rua’s best interest at this advanced stage of his career. If he wants to make waves, light heavyweight is the place to do it.
Whitman: Mairbek Taisumov was an exciting addition to the UFC roster for me, and the M-1 Global veteran showed he did not come to fool around when he earned a workmanlike victory in his UFC Fight Night 34 clash with Tae Hyun Bae. How high is Taisumov’s ceiling?
Knapp: I think the height of Taisumov’s ceiling is to be determined. Bae is not exactly a household name, and I tend to guard against putting too much emphasis on a fighter’s Octagon debut, good or bad. I think the second, third and fourth fights tell us a lot more. At 25, Taisumov has room to grow. Give him time.
Whitman: Diego Brandao is also looking to bounce back from a knockout defeat in his last outing. “The Ultimate 14” winner is talented, but he has yet to put everything together to become an elite featherweight. Do you think he will find the consistency in 2014 to grab a spot in the top 10?
Knapp: I have to admit I am not as high on Brandao as everyone else. I could be wrong -- it would not be the first or the last time -- but I want to see less volatility and more consistency out of the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative. There is no denying he has top-10 talent, but it takes more than talent at this level. The results are what count, and Brandao is risking a lot in his matchup with Will Chope.
Whitman: Jussier da Silva’s job description has become considerably more difficult over the last 18 months, with the growth of the UFC flyweight division. “Formiga” is now paired with another tough customer in Scott Jorgensen. What odds do you give the former top-ranked flyweight?
Knapp: Da Silva will need to force scrambles, as he is clearly outmatched on the feet against Jorgensen. If the Brazilian can make this fight chaotic, I like his chances. Otherwise, I think Jorgensen eventually stops him with strikes or cruises to a decision.