Dan Henderson has had a storied athletic career, dating back to wrestling in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics, as well as a mixed martial arts career that goes back to the late 90s, including his UFC debut in 1998 at UFC 17.
But Saturday night at UFC 199, it could all be coming to an end.
Henderson, the former PRIDE champion and perennial UFC championship contender, is at a crossroads as he competes at a UFC 199 against Hector Lombard on Saturday.
“I want to make sure I fulfill (my contractual obligation) and then decide what I’m going to do,” Henderson said Thursday at the UFC 199 Ultimate Media Day at the The Forum. “I still may fight for a year or two and keep going on, or I may change up and do something different but still be involved in MMA. I’m just going to wait and see what my options are after the dust settles.
“This could actually be the last fight. I have no time in mind. I could fight if I wanted to two or three more years, but I don’t think I want to fight that long. If I decide to fight, it’ll be at least a couple of more after this one, but we’ll see.”
Currently the oldest fighter on the UFC roster at age 45, “Hendo” holds a 31-14 professional record, but that only tells part of the story. The product of Temecula, Calif. is one of the legends of the game, taking on the likes of “Shogun” Rua, Renzo Gracie, Anderson Silva and “Rampage” Jackson, just to name a few.
Before taking on the world of MMA, he was an accomplished wrestler, twice qualifying for the US Olympics team (1992, ’96) before making the transition.
“When I first started, I thought I would fight for maybe a year and move on to something else,” he said. "My body was feeling not so great after wrestling for so long and competing at a high level in wrestling. My body started feeling better when I wasn’t wrestling.”
The switch paid off as Henderson reached new heights in MMA, winning PRIDE and Strikeforce championships, but falling just short of the top prize in the UFC.
“I’m very satisfied with what I’ve done. Obviously, I fell short of at least one goal in the sport, but I feel definitely good about what I’ve done,” Henderson said. "I’m not going to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what I didn’t do. I have no regrets. I feel good about it and happy to have been part of the growth of the sport.”
But before the book is complete on Henderson’s career, this weekend’s fight beckons just a short drive from his hometown.
“I’m excited to go in there and fight, especially so close to home,” Henderson said. “It’s great. I had 50 friends and family ready to watch me in Tampa six weeks ago (a fight vs. Lyoto Machida that was cancelled) – and that was across the country. Being an hour and a half from my hometown I’m sure I’ll have quite a few people here.”
In Lombard, Henderson is facing an opponent who will challenge him in multiple ways. In that respect, he couldn’t ask for a better matchup if this fight indeed evolves into a pivotal career point.
“(Lombard is) a dangerous guy. He’s going to come forward – he does that in every fight, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, but he always comes forward and throws heavy bombs,” Henderson said. "He’s somebody you have to be real careful with. I’m a dangerous guy, too. I just plan on wearing him out and breaking him. Making him know he’s in a fight and break him that way, go in there and stay in his face and wear him out.
“I just plan on beating him up and making sure that I’m living in the moment. I’m prepared and know that I’m ready to go – I just want to wear him out and break him. … Win or lose it’s not going to affect my decision.”
Jorge Mondaca is managing editor of UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JorgeAMondaca