Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida: Hendo's Road to UFC 157

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

LAS VEGAS - JULY 11:  (R-L) Dan Henderson connects with a right to Mike Bisping during their middleweight bout during UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Dan Henderson’s road to UFC 157 has been a winding one.

His journey back to the Octagon started once he left the promotion in 2009. He signed a deal with Strikeforce and debuted in April, but dropped a middleweight title bout to Jake Shields. His road back to the top began with his trip back to 205 pounds.

He met Renato “Babalu” Sobral in a title eliminator and the fight lasted less than two minutes.

Henderson knocked Babalu out and earned himself a shot against Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in Columbus, Ohio.

The grizzled veteran would claim another major championship for his collection. He won via TKO at :50 of the third round. What came next for Hendo was unclear. Zuffa LLC, the UFC’s parent company, purchased Strikeforce and the light heavyweight division lacked contenders. His next, and last, Strikeforce bout would take place at heavyweight against one of the greatest of all-time, Fedor.

The fight was a legacy fight for both men. Henderson was not given much of a shot. He was a small light heavyweight taking on one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Surely, this would be a rebound fight for Emelianenko. Henderson’s power had other plans.

Henderson became the first, and only, person to knock out Fedor.

With the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship a part of his collection, Henderson would re-sign with the UFC and make his return at UFC 139 against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The winner would likely become the No. 1 contender to Jon Jones and the UFC crown.

What came was one of the most exciting five round fights in MMA history.

Henderson won the early rounds and nearly stopped Rua, but Shogun survived and nearly pulled off the victory by taking the later rounds. It was a compelling back and forth battle. Henderson got his hand raised, and looked to have another shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

UFC 151 was the event marked on everyone’s calendar. However, an injury would force Henderson off the card just a little more than a week until the big day. When Jones turned down a fight with Chael Sonnen it became the first ever UFC card to be canceled.

It also forced Henderson out of the title fight. Now he would have to fight one more time. Lyoto Machida made his own claim for the championship, and thus this match was set to determine the No. 1 contender in the division.

Henderson says in a short interview on a UFC YouTube video, “I’m planning on just staying in his face and making him fight me, and take advantage of just touching him on his chin a little bit.”

Machida has been a tough matchup for fighters with similar gameplans in the past, but one of the most successful in employing this strategy was Shogun Rua. Henderson can learn a lot from that fight, but he does not have the same style as Shogun. Former Team Quest teammate Randy Couture tried to press forward, but Machida managed the distance extraordinarily well and finished him with a crane kick.

Henderson’s road to UFC 157 went from Strikeforce back to the UFC, and has been sidelined with an injury. Now he has to find a way to solve the puzzle that is Machida in order to reclaim the title shot he lost at UFC 151.

If there is one fighter that can use that fork in the road to get back to the title, it is Henderson. He is one of the sport’s greatest fighters. Machida is up first on the docket. The co-main event at UFC 157 will have fans on the edge of their seat.