Given all that Dan Henderson has accomplished in his mixed martial arts career, the notion that he could ever be out of his depth inside the cage is completely counterintuitive. However, his scheduled bout with Daniel Cormier at UFC 173 seems, at least on paper, to verge on being a mismatch.
Hendo’s admirers are legion, so I imagine I’ll be getting a little pushback on that last point. Looking at where the 43-year-old is in his career, though, can a reasonable argument be made that he has a realistic shot against Cormier, who seems to be improving by the second?
Certainly, the former two-weight Pride champion always has a puncher’s chance; his overhand right could disintegrate even the most robust chin. One need only go back as far as Henderson’s most recent fight, against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, for evidence of how quickly he can end a contest with a single swing of his right arm.
That being said, it’s all too easy to forget that Henderson had been dominated right up until the moment he almost decapitated Rua with what appeared to be a desperation shot.
Operating under the weight of a three-fight losing streak, for two-and-a-half rounds, it looked like Hendo was heading for his fourth straight loss, with the inevitable calls for his retirement soon to follow.
One right hand later, punctuated by a few follow-up shots, and all that came before was seemingly forgotten.
This inability to remember anything beyond the immediate past seems to be the plight of the fight fan—and sports fans generally. You are only as good as the last 10 seconds of your last fight. Everything else fades into irrelevance.
Imagining the recent version of Henderson taking on Cormier is something you might expect from the mind of a 1980s WWF booker. It looks like a squash match designed for the purpose of putting one fighter over.
Examining the pair’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s hard to give Hendo the edge anywhere. Even his much-celebrated durability has seemingly deteriorated. It might not be as dramatic as Chuck Liddell’s plummeting punch resistance toward the end of his career, but there is no doubt that Henderson doesn’t absorb the shots quite like he used to.
Despite being 35 years of age, Cormier appears to be in his prime. His evolution as a fighter is staggering.
As a former Olympic freestyle wrestler, we expected him to rely on his base and achieve a certain amount of success. What we didn’t see coming was the rapid development of his striking. Cormier looks like he has been kickboxing since he was a child.
Where the ceiling is on his potential remains to be seen, but his career remains on an upward trajectory. A meeting with Jon Jones increasingly seems like an inevitability—assuming Alexander Gustafsson doesn’t do his Superman routine again.
Henderson, on the contrary, surely must be close to calling time on his legendary career. If his fight with Cormier is as one-sided as expected, Dana White and the UFC may end up making the decision for him.