The first fight between Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is universally recognized as one of the best fights in MMA history. The two legends took another to the brink back in 2011, with "Hendo" taking the unanimous decision at the end of the 25-minute war.
When the rematch was announced for Fight Night 38, the announcement sparked an immediate wave of buzz and anticipation. The two former champions have spent their entire careers showing they only know how to fight one way—always moving forward, always looking for the finish—and their first tilt at UFC 139 only served to further bolster their respective reputations.
Nevertheless, putting on a show anywhere near the caliber of their first go was going to be a difficult task. But Henderson and Rua certainly did their best to pull it off.
Where Henderson had the edge in the first three rounds of their first meeting in San Jose, on Sunday night in Natal, those frames belonged to Rua. The former light heavyweight champion dropped the Temecula, Calif., native in each of the opening rounds and appeared to have victory within his grasp.
That said, Hendo has proven to be one of the most resilient fighters in the history of the sport, and he landed a blistering right hand that blanked Rua early in the third. Henderson pounced to hammer out the finish, and with Rua curled up defenseless, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight.
Did the fight live up to the fight bout, no it didn't. But it was a great fight nonetheless.
With two competitors once recognized as two of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet locking up for the second time, their main-event clash absorbed most of the focus leading up to the card in Natal, Brazil. That said, there were plenty of other solid performances mixed in with an extremely unfortunate and disturbing situation that impacted the card in the early morning of fight day.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from Fight Night 38.
Throughout his career in MMA, Henderson has developed a reputation for many things. Two of the most prominent are his iron chin and his hammer of a right hand, and both came into play during his rematch with Rua in the main event at Fight Night 38.
While the Brazilian Muay Thai machine had the 43-year-old Henderson on the ropes multiple times throughout first two rounds, the former two-divisional Pride champion was able to hang tough.
Henderson has proven to be one of the most resilient and hard-nosed fighters on the planet, but his legendary status may reach a new level in the aftermath of his rematch with Rua, as the former Chute Boxe fighter dropped the Californian with monster shots on two occasions.
Being clearly down two rounds and being hurt in both of them, it seemed as if the end was near for Henderson. But just when his back hit the wall, he planted a soul-stealing right hand on Rua's mouth that rolled the Bad Boy representative's eyes back and became the beginning of the end. Henderson wasted no time pouncing and hammering out the finish to pick up his second victory over Rua.
Henderson's win in Natal certainly comes at a crucial time in his career. The former Strikeforce champion had lost three consecutive bouts coming into his rematch with Rua and needed a win to remain relevant in the light heavyweight fold. The victory over Rua on Sunday will guarantee "Hendo" will remain in the crowded upper tier at 205 pounds, where a loss would have knocked him out of that realm forever.
C.B. Dollaway's current nickname is "The Doberman," but he may have to consider changing that to the "Brazilian Prospect Killer" after Sunday night. The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 alum had derailed highly touted prospect Daniel Sarafian on a previous visit to Brazil, and he pulled off an even bigger feat by melting Vitor Belfort protege Cezar Ferreira in the first round of their co-main-event bout.
Where a lot of fighters don't enjoy the trip down to Brazil to compete, Dollaway absolutely embraces the challenge. The Power MMA fighter was a heavy underdog coming in against the TUF: Brazil winner, but Dollaway showed tremendous poise as he stood in the pocket and scored the knockout over Ferreira less than a minute into the fight.
With the victory over "Mutante" in Natal, Dollaway will have solid momentum going forward.
Had the razor-thin split-decision against Tim Boestch gone his way at UFC 166 last October, the former Arizona State University wrestling standout would be carrying a four-fight winning streak. Instead, he's found victory in three of his last four outings and will be moving closer to the next tier of competition in his next outing.
Reputations are earned in combat sports, and the forward-trudging zombie abilities of Fabio Maldonado is working itself toward folklore. The Team Nogueira fighter has logged plenty of examples of his ability to endure a beating in the early goings of a fight, only to bounce back and trade leather until the bitter end.
The 34-year-old Brazilian bounced back from being controlled on the mat for the majority of the opening round by Gian Villante, to then have his face bloodied up with a knee from the former Hofstra linebacker landing flush on his forehead to close out the round.
Where some fighters shift into a defensive mode when they are opened up and see their own blood, Maldonado seems to come alive in that situation. The light heavyweight slugger came into the second round revitalized and set about putting a barrage of punches on the head and body of the New York native.
While Villante appeared to be out on his feet in the final moments of the third round, he ultimately survived to hear the final bell. Maldonado picked up the unanimous-decision victory and has now been successful in three consecutive outings.
There were a lot of questions surrounding how The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil Rony Jason would bounce back after being stopped in his last outing where he was knocked out by Jeremy Stephens back in November. Jason is considered to be one of the hottest prospects coming out of Brazil, and he needed a strong showing over Steven Siler on Sunday to regain the buzz he lost against "Lil Heathen."
Where the first-round stoppage was ultimately controversial, there is no doubt Jason had Siler in serious trouble. A big right hand from the Brazilian wobbled the Utah native, and the sharp left that immediately followed put Silver on the mat.
As Jason swarmed in to pound out the finish, the referee stepped in and waved off the action. Despite Silver in the midst of throwing an upkick when the official interjected, the fight was officially called, and Jason picked up his fourth victory in five showings under the UFC banner.
With the featherweight divisional ranks more stacked than ever before, defeating Siler isn't going to launch him up the divisional hierarchy. That said, with a strong string of impressive performances, it is highly likely Jason's next opponent will provide him the opportunity to take another big step toward a top 10 ranking.
*** Despite being a huge underdog coming into his bout with Ronny Markes on the preliminary portion of the card, Thiago Santos wasn't about to let a huge opportunity slip away from him. While his opponent came into the fight heavy—having missed the weight limit by four pounds—Santos kept his composure and stepped into the Octagon to handle business.
He accomplished this task in quick fashion as he planted a devastating kick square to Markes' liver which forced the prospect to crumple to the mat. Santos pounded out the finish shortly after and picked up his first victory under the UFC banner.
That liver kick will make you look at the ground like there is a magic potion that lets you breath. #UFCFightNight— James Krause (@TheJamesKrause) March 23, 2014
*** When Jussier Formiga came to the UFC in 2012, the Brazilian grappling ace was figured to be a major player in the flyweight title picture. Yet, after suffering a loss to John Dodson in his debut, then getting knocked out by Joseph Benavidez two fights later, Formiga was on the verge of being pushed to the brink of irrelevancy in the 125-pound collective.
He needed a win over Scott Jorgensen at Fight Night 38, and he wasted zero time making that happen. The Nova Uniao fighter submitted "Young Guns" early in the opening round and logged his most impressive showing to date under the UFC banner.
*** To compete at the highest level of MMA takes total dedication, but Kenny Robertson has somehow managed to balance his career in the cage with a full-time teaching career.
When fighters split time between two professions, their focus often comes into question, but the Peoria, Ill., resident silenced any doubt of his commitment as he choked out Thiago Perpetuo in the first round of their tilt. Robertson has now picked up victories in two of his last three showings, with each win coming by way of impressive submission finish.
*** Godofredo Pepey came into Fight Night 38 needing a victory in the worst way. The Brazilian TUF alum's time under the UFC banner had been lackluster at best, as the wild-haired veteran had only managed one win in his four showings inside the Octagon.
The Fortaleza native was looking to turn things around in a big way, and that's exactly what he did when he leveled Noad Lahat with a sick flying knee in the opening round of their fight. A perfectly timed knee on the chin gave the Israeli fighter the quick and violent sleep and put Pepey back into the win column.
There were a few staggered matchups on the card for Fight Night 38, but none seemingly more in favor than Markes. The Nova Uniao product was squaring off with Santos who was in search of his first win under the UFC banner.
With Markes coming off a knockout loss in his last showing back in November, the Rio de Janeiro-based fighter needed a strong showing in Natal to get things back on track. Unfortunately, the Brazilian veteran got things off on the wrong foot by missing weight by four pounds at Saturday's official weigh-ins, then having to eat a brutal body kick in the opening moments, which led to a Santos finish.
Folks, that was a +525 underdog beating a -800 favorite, the way they closed. That's a major upset, and major karma.— Matt Erickson (@MMAjunkieMatt) March 23, 2014
While back-to-back losses isn't typically a situation that will put a fighter's job in jeopardy, missing weight followed by a lackluster showing, will put Markes in a place he certainly wasn't aiming to be.
When Jorgensen made the decision to drop down into flyweight waters, he was figured to be a major player in the divisional title race upon entry. "Young Guns" had been a staple in the upper tier of the bantamweight division for years, and a fresh start at 125 pounds appeared to be a solid career move for the Boise, Idaho, native.
That said, a loss to Zach Makovsky in his flyweight debut back at UFC on Fox 9 back in December was undoubtedly a big setback, but suffering his second consecutive loss to Formiga on Sunday night will put the former WEC bantamweight title challenger in a curious position.
Jorgensen was looking to keep the fight standing, but he ate a headbutt as Formiga charged in, and the fight entered the Brazilian's world when the action hit the canvas.
Despite Jorgensen's efforts to shake loose and survive, Formiga locked on a fight-ending rear-naked choke and brought the bout to a close in the middle of the first round. Granted, it was a headbutt that rattled Jorgensen and put him on the ground, but he was shortly finished nonetheless.
Where back-to-back losses in the flyweight fold will create some concern for Jorgensen, the skid is a part of a bigger stretch where he's dropped four out of his last five showings. The saving grace in this situation may be the general lack of depth at 125 pounds, but there is no way the former PAC-10 wrestling champion will be on shaky ground going forward.
While debating referee calls and judges' decisions can be the equivalent of sticking your head underwater, what went down between Jason and Siler could only be seen as an early stoppage.
There is no doubt the Brazilian had the Utah native in serious trouble when he rocked and dropped him with a combo, but the referee jumping in while "Super" was throwing an upkick to defend himself is a telltale sign it was halted too soon.
Referees are there for fighter safety, and when a fighter isn't intelligently defending themselves a stoppage is warranted. But in Siler's case, he was doing just that with his legs, and the referee definitely stepped in prematurely.
Yes @Stevesiler was hurt, but he was still intelligently trying to defend, bad stoppage in my opinion.— Brad Tavares (@BradTavares) March 23, 2014
While the typical entries into this column earn their way in by performing poorly inside the cage, the situation surrounding Will Chope took things to a much different level. The featherweight was originally slated to face Brazilian powerhouse Diego Brandao on the final bout of the prelim card, and with both fighters making weight on Saturday, all appeared to be good to go.
In the hours after the official weigh-ins, Bleacher Report's own Jeremy Botter broke a disturbing story regarding Chope's release from the United States Air Force back in 2009.
According the official report from the Air Force, Chope had domestically battered his wife on several occasions, with the final incident involving death threats and a kitchen knife. Since Chope had directly disobeyed orders from his superior officer, he was convicted then discharged from military service.
The news from Bleacher Report broke on Saturday night, with the UFC issuing an official statement in the early morning hours on Sunday. The announcement declared the bout between the two featherweights had officially been cancelled and Chope had been released from his UFC contract.
The move left Brandao without an opponent and with no time to find a replacement. The UFC's statement also revealed the Jackson's MMA fighter would be receiving both his show and win money due to the circumstances at hand and a bout from the prelims was moved up to fill the void on the main card.
The UFC exhibited a strong stance by showing their unwillingness to handle Chope's situation promptly. This situation furthers the issue that a proper background-check system needs to be put into place. There is no doubt the promotion made the right call, but waiting for the media to expose the story before action is taken is an opportunity lost in the continued race to clean up the sport.
When Godofredo Pepey is on a fight card, there is always a place reserved in this category for his choice of hairstyle. That said, with the violence displayed in the flying knee that melted Lahat to kick off the card, he has understandably been given a pass this time around.
Jason had an excellent performance in his first-round-stoppage victory over Siler, but his post-fight interview left much to be desired.
The Brazilian cannot be faulted for his broken English, but the things he professed his love for came out utterly confusing and certainly strange. Due to BR's Content Standards, the actual words cannot be posted here in the column, but a quick Twitter search for @Erik_Fontanez will give you the goods to make your own call.
If his first two points of reference weren't curious enough, finishing up his rant with "I love Bruce Buffer" completed a solid tri-fecta of awkward for Jason. But hey...at least he won the fight.
The corner man of the year award may have found an early winner in former UFC veteran Roger Huerta. The retired veteran was in the corner of Mairbek Taisumov during his bout with Michel Prazeres on the main card of Fight Night 38.
After his Thailand-based teammate had come out on the business end of the first two rounds, which included having a point deducted in each, Huerta had apparently seen enough. With Taisumov tied up against the cage, "El Matador" began shouting at him to quit and give up.
While every fighter takes their motivation from a different place and Huerta may have been going with reverse psychology, the instructions he was shouting were certainly perplexing.
"Give up! Give up! Give up right now!" -Roger Huerta to his fighter Taisumov #UFCFightNightNatal— Kenny Florian (@kennyflorian) March 23, 2014
Although it doesn't deserve much real estate because there were solid fights on this card, it was interesting to have a UFC event on a Sunday night. Things felt a bit strange in the pre-fight lead-up with the weigh-ins taking place on Saturday rather than the typical UFC fight card, but the change-up to Sunday evening came off well.
While the referee stoppage was addressed in the previous category, the same official made another dubious call later on in the card in the tilt between Leonardo Santos and Norman Parke.
The two former TUF winners were in the midst of a sluggish battle low on the entertainment scale, when said referee deducted a point from the Northern Ireland-based fighter for blatantly grabbing the Brazilian fighter's shorts in an effort to secure the takedown.
In such cases there is typically a warning issues, but Parke's infraction was immediately punished. This put the fight on an odd slant with the final result being a majority draw. It was a strange fight from all measures, but the third man in the cage once again played a huge role in the outcome.
** Author's note: Two points were deducted during the writing of this article by the same referee without any prior warning.
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.