When I say I’m a big Dan Henderson fan, I mean it. Sure, there are countless fighters I enjoy watching and get enthused about, but Dan’s always been on a higher level in my eyes. “Hendo” as he was nicknamed, is a highly respected athlete both in and out of mixed martial arts. Although the respect will never, and should never die, his brilliant career needs a check into the “W column” this Saturday in Dublin should he continue on with dominant aspirations.
Dan is one of the former PRIDE fighters who were invited into the UFC after Zuffa’s purchase of the Japanese MMA promotion. Many hardcore fans still tout the PRIDE years as something very special. Indeed those special years bred legends (and current UFC fighters) by the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Rampage Jackson, Mark Coleman, Antonio Nogueira, just to name a few. Hendo however, has struggled a bit as some others have in the PRIDE-to-UFC transition.
Henderson lost his first two fights inside the Octagon. First, a five-round decision loss to former light-heavy champ Rampage Jackson. After that, a rear-naked choke was imposed on him courtesy of middleweight champ Anderson Silva. At that point, a must-win fight was put in front of him as he took on dangerous Rousimar Palhares at UFC 88 in Atlanta. Having been there live, I’ll testify that Dan was back in excellent form and put together a victory over the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wiz which impressed all (in their right minds) in attendance.
That, having been a must-win situation, oddly makes Saturday’s match-up with Rich Franklin even that much more crucial. Dan’s fighting a true contender; a former champ. Rich, like Dan, naturally exists somewhere between the light-heavyweight and middleweight division, and can fight in both. So, with weight not being that big of a factor coming into 93, the storyline leads right to the following question. Where are both men mentally, on the road of their respective careers in MMA?
Rich is training hard, as always, and I imagine Dan wouldn’t deviate one bit with “Ace” stepping into the cage aginst him. Franklin’s stated he’s hungry for the title, and has shown it’s perfectly possible if he stays injury-free. So many questions will be answered this weekend, moreso about Dan’s status amongst the 205 pounders, than Rich’s.