On the most recent episode of UFC Tonight the topic of Alexander Gustafsson’s April bout against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was brought up with UFC President Dana White adding that Dan Henderson had originally turned a fight with “Minotoro” down, thus forcing the company to go a different direction and book the 24-year old Swede in his place. While the news that former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Henderson would have to fight again to cement a shot at the UFC belt might shock some, I wasn’t caught off-guard in the least bit and actually agree with Zuffa’s line of thinking where the 41-year old’s immediate future is concerned.
I also fully understand why Henderson wasn’t interested in facing Nogueira.
Regarding the UFC’s stance, consider for a second the notion 205-pound king Jon Jones is likely to face the winner of Rashad Evans-Phil Davis next with a match-up in late spring or early summer. If the company kept Henderson on the sidelines until a vacant title-shot popped up he could be waiting there until September, a waste considering his age and the general need to keep fighters fairly active. So, unless Evans loses and the UFC is unsure about Davis to the point Henderson is called on, there’s no question “Hendo” needs to strap on his gloves again and go to work without any gold on the line.
Also, a vast number of fans out there are only vaguely aware of what Henderson has done outside of the organization. They won’t be considering his wins over Renato Sobral, Rafael Cavalcante, and Fedor Emelianenko when it comes to laying down $50 for a PPV but rather his success at 185 pounds and his performance against Mauricio Rua. And, as wonderful as their war was to watch, on the surface Henderson barely scraped by to pick up a decision, almost being finished in the process by a man Jones dominated from start to finish. Or, even if those people did watch Strikeforce, there’s always that pesky Jake Shields loss to consider. However, another win in the Octagon over a recognizable opponent and things would make more sense to the masses.
As far as Henderson’s decision to decline a fight with Nogueira I think he’s “playing the game” so to speak and doing so in an intelligent fashion. There’s no guarantee Evans will take Davis out, plus Jones is on record as saying he wants to get back in the cage again even if the bout takes place before the Evans-Davis winner is ready for a follow-up fight. Either scenario puts Henderson in a prime position where getting a crack at Jones’ championship is concerned while agreeing to take on Nogueira might have jeopardized that potential opportunity. Beyond that, success against Nogueira would do little for Henderson other than avenge a loss from more than five years ago (around the same time “Little Nog” last beat a truly relevant opponent). Where Nogueira is 1-2 in his last three fights with the lone win coming against Tito Ortiz, Henderson has won four straight with some major victories in the bunch. With that being the case, why would Henderson want to risk his run in a bout with the Brazilian? He’s also banged up from his classic with Rua so a little extra time to heal rather than rushing back to the ring is a hard move to fault too.
Hopefully the above insight has provided some perspective for people concerned when they read/heard about Henderson’s status. There’s no question the fan-favorite former champion is deserving of a dance with Jones but “fair” can often be a four letter word in MMA when it comes to title-shots, and unfortunately for Henderson it appears the circumstances necessitate the need to mix it up one more time in the Octagon against someone other than “Bones”.
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