Then, a minute into the third, Hendo penned one for Mauricio “Shogun” Rua using just one punch.
It was a right hook, and Henderson landed it flush on Rua’s nose as the 32-year-old crowd favorite dropped his hands to defend a takedown. Rua somersaulted backward, and Hendo charged in to land another right, followed by a series of hammerfists that prompted referee Herb Dean to stop the action.
Just like that, Hendo changed the balance of the discussion. Suddenly, it was the 43-year-old who was back in the mix of the light heavyweight division and Rua whose storied tenure in the sport seemed on its last legs.
Six-and-a-half minutes earlier, it appeared as though Dean would have to step in to save Henderson. With 41 seconds on the clock in the opening stanza, Henderson stunned Shogun with a left hook, but in his hurry to press the action against the fence, he was floored by a two-punch counter.
Rua swarmed him with hard shots, but as Dean hovered a step away, Hendo managed to survive to the end of the round. Later, with just under three minutes left in the second, Shogun dropped him with an uppercut, but Henderson again weathered the storm.
And so it went until the opening stages of the third, when—after 10 minutes of looking entirely pedestrian—Hendo reminded us that he only needed one bullet and that he still possessed the cold, exacting heart of a sniper.
“I think he’d rung my bell just a tad in the first round and then again in the second,” he told UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik in the cage after the fight. “I just decided to be patient. I think I was a little bit too patient in the first two rounds. I wasn’t very offensive. That third round I think we both decided to get after it and leave things where we left the last fight.”
Their last fight this one was not, but Henderson’s come-from-behind KO at least made a thrilling ending to a bout between two aging superstars who both badly needed a win.
The loss dropped Rua to 1-3 in his last four Octagon appearances. After a 12-year career and multiple knee surgeries, he appeared on the brink of the end before defeating James Te Huna in December of 2013. Now, he suddenly finds himself back at that same fork in the road.
Henderson came in 0-3 since his classic against Rua at UFC 139, though the UFC broadcast team took pains to tell us each of those losses came at the hands of a former light heavyweight champion.
Now, he’s back. Back in the win column, if nothing else.
It might not be entirely accurate to say Hendo looked great throughout this fight, but he looked great at the end, and that’s what counts.
Even with his losing streak snapped, however, Henderson faces an uncertain future in MMA. For years he’d been supplementing his traditional training with testosterone replacement therapy—a practice banned by the Nevada Athletic Commission and the UFC in February.
Due to the proximity of this event in Natal, Brazil, and the fact Henderson had already been approved for a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone, he was allowed to remain on TRT for one last fight. Now, he’ll have to transition away from the controversial treatment.
Leading up to this fight, he said he planned to carry on with his MMA career, but said he wasn’t really going to consider his options until after facing Rua.
“I don't need to make any decisions now,” he told Fox Sport’s Damon Martin last week. “I'm going to have to do some research and see what's out there."
It’s thought that TRT patients who must suddenly leave the stuff behind could face a rough road and myriad health issues associated with going cold turkey. Already 43 years old, it remains to be seen how Henderson will deal with weaning himself off synthetic testosterone.
As of now, we’re left to believe he’ll fight again.
In the wake of this victory, it’ll likely be against someone else in the 205-pound Top 10.