Tonight’s UFC Fight Night 32 will put two of mixed martial arts’s biggest icons: Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort against Dan “Hendo” Henderson, a rematch from their Pride fight in 2006. Let’s state the obvious that this fight is a must win for both fighters especially since both are still as dangerous as any young gun and are still vying for a title shot. But for Hendo, this is do or die. This is his most important fight. He has to beat Vitor Belfort. His entire career depends on it.
Both Hendo and Belfort have a combined 29 knockout wins in their careers. All of Belfort’s wins in the UFC have come via finish. That’s right. Out of the 12 UFC opponents he has beaten, he has submitted two and knocked out ten. The Phenom has looked phenomenal, excuse the bad pun, as of late. Thank a little TRT exemption – but his last two wins, both spectacular finishes against middleweight contenders, Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold means he’s on a path of destruction back to contendership (listed #2 ranked middleweight by UFC.com).
Hendo in contrast has lost his last two fights by split decision to former light heavyweight champions, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. A lot of the naysayers may think Hendo’s on a downtrend and retirement may be in the horizon but Hendo stated he has no plans of and wants to fight for at least two more years. That’s plenty of time to get back into title contention.
Before Hendo lost his last two fights, he was Jon Jones’s next opponent until his injury infamously made history by cancelling the first ever UFC 151. This and being on a two-fight losing streak pretty much has Hendo on the back end of a short line of contenders for another shot. But one punch can change everything. One knockout can change Hendo’s fortunes for good. But he has to be the one pulling it off.
Turning Back Time: 2011
Hendo is only two years removed from a magnificent 2011, which was arguably his greatest year since his Pride days. In 2011, Hendo knocked out highly-touted Black House prodigy, Rafael “Feijao” Calvacante to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship. He followed this up with come-from-behind knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, the first time the great Russian has been felled mid-fight by strikes.
And as an encore to the year, Hendo engaged Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in what many pundits and fans alike have called one of the greatest fights in MMA history. He would win the war by unanimous decision.
Hendo would go 3-0 for the year, which would earn him the aforementioned title shot against Jones. But it’s worth noting that his wins have come with asterisks. Cavalcante as highly regarded as he was isn’t a top ten light heavyweight at least not in the UFC. Fedor was on the downswing of his career coming off of two losses and several fight metrics had him losing to Rua.
TRT or Retirement?
Since his injury in 2012 and bowing out of the title fight, Hendo just has not looked the same. He certainly didn’t seem as explosive in both his fights against Rashad and Machida and has looked slower and more sluggish. Being permitted a TRT exemption isn’t good news, it’s more concerning. But should Hendo decide to undergo it, would it make a big difference?
TRT users indeed report “increased alertness and well-being, increase in lean muscle mass and concomitant decrease in body fat” (source: Gan EH, “A UK Epidemic of Testosterone Prescribing 2001-2010) . It has certainly helped the resurgent Vitor Belfort as he has looked like a new man, arguably at his best ever since he’s fought professionally. It’s also helped Chael Sonnen as he submitted Rua within just a round. But it didn’t really help either man against Jon Jones.
A reinvigorated Hendo could definitely end up like Vitor Belfort. There’s no guarantee but should Hendo lose to Belfort, and should he lose badly (as in first T/KO loss), maybe retirement is a better path?
Does Hendo want to fade away like other greats before him: Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson and the abovementioned Fedor Emelianenko?
Hendo is a man of great pride and he has aged gracefully. I’m sure he as well as any of his fans believe he’s capable of putting on even more fights but what if he isn’t? As a Hendo fan, I would hate to see him get trashed on his way out of MMA.
One punch. Sometimes that’s all it takes to end a fight. And it can happen at any moment against anyone. It happened to Anderson Silva against Chris Weidman, the greatest mixed martial artist of his time flattened by a punch. Hendo and Belfort are both familiar with the power both possess. Whether it is Hendo who uncorks an “H Bomb” and floors Belfort or the Phenom finally accomplishes what over 30 fighters couldn’t and that is to stop Hendo in his tracks with punches (or a kick).
If Belfort loses, he’d be slightly derailed from his hopes of another title shot (since the fight is taking place at light heavyweight, he will still be technically unbeaten at middleweight since losing to Anderson Silva). But if Hendo loses, this could put him on the verge like what Frank Mir is currently facing.
If Hendo wins however and if he does so in spectacular fashion, he’ll be back in the hunt since the only men who have beaten Belfort in the UFC are or will be in the Hall of Fame. One punch could change Hendo’s fortunes: back in title contention or one step closer to retirement or the purgatory of the gatekeeper status.
As such, this would be Hendo’s most important match. It isn’t for a title. It isn’t of the same magnitude as the Fedor or Anderson Silva fight and it likely isn’t Hendo’s last. But it could very well be one that would define his legacy. One punch: Hendo goes back on the road to the title… or the road to the end.