EDITORIAL | The Legend Lives: Dan Henderson Will Forever Be ‘One of a Kind’
| Dan Henderson has become one of the most prolific and accomplished mixed martial artists of all time. His time inside the sport, which began way back in 1997, has spanned over the sports steady, constant evolution and, unlike many fighters that began competing when he did, he is not only still competing, but he is competing at the very top level of the game. Henderson will headline tonight’s UFC 161 event in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, as he goes to battle with fellow top contender and former UFC light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans.
Headlining an event is nothing new to Henderson. Neither is fighting one of the best fighters in the world. Dan “Hendo” Henderson has a resume that is pretty much untouched by any other competitor. When we think of fellow fighters that may stack up to the credentials that Henderson holds or in some way resemble the same things he’s accomplished throughout his career it’s pretty much impossible. Henderson, who is going to be 43 in August, is a ‘one of a kind’ fighter. We don’t look at Henderson as being the absolute greatest fighter of all time, although he is among the talks in that conversation, but his path to tonight’s UFC 161 fight with Rashad Evans is remarkable and may never be matched in the future. Let’s take a closer look at Henderson’s road to becoming a living legend.
First of all, I want to make it a point to explain that Henderson was at the forefront of the MMA scene from the very beginning. He’s what we refer to as an ‘old-school’ fighter, making his first UFC appearance at UFC 17 back in 1998. He had a purely wrestling background but was not afraid to stand and bang with strikes. He has a chin made of granite and he’s transformed his game as the sport has evolved and has become one of the most successful and competitive fighters of all time. He’s held multiple MMA world titles (PRIDE & Strikeforce), he’s won MMA tournaments, he’s won “Fight of the Year” and “Knock-out of the Year” honors in the UFC, and since rising to the top of the competition ladder in the late ‘90’s Henderson has never really left the top 10 in any division he’s competed in. But Henderson’s MMA accolades are only a partial segment of what makes him the “one-of-a-kind” fighter that we may never see come around again.
Before competing in mixed martial arts Henderson was one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in the nation. He started wrestling at a young age and blossomed into a CIF high school state wrestling finalist in 1987. He went to wrestle at Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State University, but his real accomplishments on the mat came after his collegiate career. Henderson was a Pan American Greco champion, a multiple-time Greco-Roman National Champion, A multiple-time Greco World Team Trials winner, and a multiple-time Greco Olympic Trial winner, representing TEAM USA in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics for Greco-Roman Wrestling.
Henderson competed and often times dominated at the top of the wrestling world for over a decade before deciding to compete in MMA. Then, seemingly at the push of a button, Henderson become one of the most feared and talented fighters in the world as well. He won the UFC 17 middleweight tournament in 1998 and then won a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Pan American games in 2000. His ability to be the best in whatever he does is unmatched by any fighter we’ve ever seen.
When we try to think of comparisons names like Randy Couture, who was also a highly decorated wrestler that had tons of success in MMA, come to mind. But let’s really stack up the accolades. Henderson will enter UFC 161 tonight with a 29-9 record; that 10 more wins and two less losses than Randy had when he retired (Couture was 19-11 in his MMA career). Couture was also never a Pan Am Greco Champion (although he came very close a few times), he never represented our team in the Olympics (although he came close), and he’s never held two belts simultaneously like Henderson did in PRIDE (although he did hold multiple titles in the UFC, something that still eludes Henderson). And on top of that, Henderson has never been knocked-out and is still considered just one win away from competing for the UFC light heavyweight title. Randy Couture has arguably done more for the UFC brand and MMA than any other single competitor. Couture had an illustrious career in the UFC and was an amazing wrestler as well, but that’s not my point. What I’m saying is that Henderson has the edge in the wrestling accolades and is still padding his resume with accomplishments inside the UFC.
As the sport continues to transform, grow in popularity, and as competition increases I don’t see anyone doing what Henderson has done. I think that the future stars of MMA are going to be thorough-bred MMA fighters. What I mean is that we’re not going to see many fighters coming into MMA with Olympic caliber credentials anymore, partly because the future stars are going to be pure MMA fighters from day one, and partly because the sport of wrestling is currently in a battle to resubmit itself into the Olympic Games after it was shockingly voted out by the IOC ( #SaveOlympicWrestling ). The new-breed of fighters be well versed in every aspect of the game and I think that this will surely raise the talent level in the sport’s future, but the accolades from other martial arts are not going to be as high. We’re not going to see wrestlers becoming fighters, or jiu-jitsu world champions becoming fighters. In the future, it may end up being the other way around.
So as we watch Dan Henderson make his way to the octagon and go to battle with Rashad Evans remember to remind yourself that you’re watching one of the greatest, most achieved athletes in the game today. And also remind yourself that we may never see another fighter quite like Dan Henderson again. Realize that we’re watching a living legend, and appreciate what Henderson will mean to the sport when he is no-longer competing. There may only be one ‘Hendo’, so enjoy it while you can.