Dan Henderson is a humble man. So it’s not surprising that when asked about being one-half of one of the greatest fights in MMA history with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, one that will be entering the fight wing of the UFC Hall of Fame this July, he remains the king of understatement.
“I knew it was a pretty good fight,” said Hendo. “It was definitely a lot tougher than I bargained for and what I thought I was gonna get.”
Pretty good??? Don’t listen to the former Strikeforce and two-division PRIDE champion. His first fight with Rua at UFC 139 on November 19, 2011, was an epic five-round battle that will find its way into the top five of any hardcore fight fan’s best ever list.
It was that good, filled with punishing action, high-level technique, drama and courageous stands from both men. When it was over, Henderson left the HP Pavilion in San Jose with a unanimous decision comprised of three identical scores of 48-47. But like all great fights, it didn’t really matter who won or lost. What mattered was the fight.
“This fight was really good for the crowd, they really liked it,” said Rua. “I can only compare it to one other fight, when I fought Little Nog in PRIDE. I’m just really happy that everyone keeps talking about this fight. Everywhere I go, they talk about it and I appreciate that it’s a part of UFC history.”
Entering the bout, the former PRIDE superstars were in interesting spots in their storied careers. Henderson was returning to the UFC after a four-fight run in Strikeforce where he won the light heavyweight belt and then went to heavyweight to knock out former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko. Rua was sitting at just 4-3 in the UFC, and while he had won and lost the 205-pound crown, many wondered whether his best days were behind him.
Hendo was one of those wondering. Then the first round finished, and after being hurt by Henderson’s patented “H-Bomb” and getting bloodied and nearly stopped, Shogun was still standing.
“He definitely hung in there a lot better than I expected him to,” Henderson said. “He showed a lot of heart and there was no quit in him at all. I definitely was surprised that he was staying in there like he was. I hit him a lot of times pretty dang hard and I was really surprised at his durability and his heart.”
“It was really hard to handle the big punches from Henderson,” added Rua. “But I’m really happy that I was able to handle them and keep up during each round to improve.”
Henderson kept the heat on Rua over the next two frames, with the Brazilian’s gas tank rapidly emptying. Yet Shogun wouldn’t back down, and in rounds four and five, he rose from the ashes to rally and nearly pull off the miracle comeback as it was Hendo’s time to face the fatigue demon.
“I was always trying to win the fight,” said Rua. “In the fourth and fifth rounds, I got most of the time on top of Henderson. He could handle my punches and at the end, I gave my max, all my heart and I’m happy that we had a great fight.”
When the final horn sounded, the fans roared and kept roaring as the two warriors walked back to the locker room, appreciative for the effort given by both Henderson and Rua.
“It was a hard fight, Dan Henderson is a really good guy,” said Rua. “I gave my best. Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I know I gave my best. This fight was probably one of the best of my career, but I didn’t get the win at the end.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I already respected him but I respect him even more so knowing that he could get through a war like that and keep on going,” added Henderson. “He’s always represented the sport well and I think we’ll always have that bond.”
That doesn’t mean Henderson, who defeated Rua via knockout in their second bout in 2014 and retired after his October 2016 rematch with Michael Bisping, has it on an endless loop in his California home.
“I haven’t watched it in a long time,” he laughed. “I’m sure I’ll see it again before July. I remember it quite well, so I don’t really need to go watch it again, but I do hear about it on my social media every time it plays on TV.”
It was great watching it on fight night. And over repeated viewings, it never gets old. That’s why it’s in the UFC Hall of Fame.
“I always want to give my best,” said Rua, who returns to the Octagon to face Volkan Oezdemir on July 22. “Whether I win or not, I always want to give my best. I did my best in this fight and I’m really happy that I could put my name in history and in the UFC Hall of Fame. Also, the fans enjoyed this fight and that makes me really happy, as they always support me.”
“It is very special knowing that I’m still remembered for what I’ve done in the sport and all the hard work I’ve put in,” said Henderson. “At the time I’m doing all this and fighting these fights, never in my mind am I thinking, ‘This is how I want to be remembered.’ I’m just going out there and fighting for me and trying to accomplish things that I know I can accomplish. So it’s great to know that you did a good job and represented yourself and the sport well enough for people to remember you like that.”