RETROSPECTIVE: Dan "Call Me Hollywood, Dangerous or Henderson, Call Me Legend"

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RETROSPECTIVE: Dan
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
One would be best to avoid that right hand.

As I watched Dan Henderson fall to the floor from a Fedor Emelianenko right hand, I figured that he was just too small to compete with the former King of MMA.

Henderson fighting out of his weight class and losing to a world class fighter has happened more than once. He’s also 41 years old, so Father Time has been expecting “Hollywood” for a while now.  The thing about Dan is he does not fight like he’s a man who is 41. He did not fight like a guy everyone knew was going to lose to “The Last Emperor.”

A bewildered looking Henderson dropped Fedor with an uppercut, and then, ended the fight with some vicious ground-and-pound. Like he has so many times before, Dan lived up to the nickname “Dangerous,” and a world class fighter’s name was added to what may already be the most impressive resume ever compiled in the history of Mixed Martial Arts.

Tell Father Time to wait.  Dan’s not done yet.

The mixed martial artist we know as “Hollywood” Dan Henderson was born Daniel Jeffery Henderson, on August 24th, 1970, in tiny Downey, California.  Dan grew up in Apple Valley, CA, where he attended Victory Valley High School. He attended Victor Valley High School in Victorville, California, where he would earn medals at the California State Wrestling Championships in 1987 and again in 1988.

He was a member of the 1987 Victor Valley High School wrestling team state champions. Henderson went on to wrestle at both Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State University, participating in the 1993 NCAA championships. He also qualified to represent the United States in both the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling.

His mixed martial arts career began in 1997 as a part of the Real American Wrestling Team, which was run by Rico Chiapparelli, who himself having been a former NCAA national wrestling champion. Dan began his MMA career with a bang.

After winning a couple of fights in Brazil, he entered the illustrious Ultimate Fighting Championship for their 17th tournament. In only his third fight (as per Sherdog Fight Finder), he was matched with former multiple world Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion Allan Goes.  Henderson would win that fight, and then, defeat future UFC Welterweight Champion, Carlos Newton, to win the tournament.

Dan’s year wasn’t over yet though.  In 1999, he entered the RINGS: King of Kings tournament. The tournament held over two events would put the former Victor Valley High School state champion’s name on the map. 

After winning both his fights in the first round, Hendo found himself matched against devastating Muay Thai striker Gilbert Yvel. Yvel had already forged a name for himself both in and out of the ring.  Dan used his superior wrestling to frustrate the striker en route to a unanimous decision.

The next two fights were tougher contests that Dan would win by split and majority decision respectively.  Not too shabby considering the former would be a future Pride and UFC heavyweight champion, and arguably, one of the greatest fighters of all time in Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera.  The latter? Future Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and two-time UFC LHW title contender Renato Sobral. 

His eighth and ninth straight victories catapulted him to the title of tournament champion and an invite to the rapidly blossoming Pride Fighting Championships, which was carving a name for itself as “the” place to fight for elite MMA talent.

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Dan stepped into the PRIDE ring for the first time at PRIDE 12: Cold Fury.  It was here, he would suffer his first defeat.  A hard fought battle against vicious Muay Thai striker, and MMA legend Wanderlei Silva.  Despite the defeat, Dan’s reputation as an elite Mixed Martial Artist had been set.  He would become a fixture in the PRIDE organization and one of the promotion’s biggest (and yet surprisingly underrated) stars.

Dan would real off three straight victories, with a vicious knockout of MMA legend Renzo Gracie and a hard-fought split decision victory over rising star Murilo “Ninja” Rua bookending the streak.  Dan, however was undersized for PRIDE’s Middleweight (205 lb) division and would lose his next two fights to Ricardo Arona, as well as a rematch to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

Despite the setbacks, Dan would continue to be a perennial title contender within the organization.  He would win four straight, with victories over former UFC middle weight (185 lb) champion Murilo Bustamante and Japanese standout Yuki Kondo, during that streak.

His performances earned him an invite to PRIDE: Total Elimination 2005.  Dan would, unfortunately, see his streak ended by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira—the twin brother of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

The year 2005 would be a banner year for Henderson. PRIDE created a welterweight (183 lb) division, and the champion would be named at the illustrious 2005 Shockwave event.  Dan rode to the tournament final on a tear, having knocked out Japanese standouts Ryo Chonan and Akhiro Gono in his previous two bouts. 

This set up a rematch against the always tough Murilo Bustamante. Dan would take an arguable split decision to be named the first PRIDE welterweight champion.  Dan was once again a champ, and once again, he had earned it by facing the best.

Dan would win his next bout against the always game Kazuo Misaki.  However, an uninspired Henderson would lose the title of tournament champion to Misaki only four months later in a rematch. Due to PRIDE’s strange rules on champion bouts, Dan’s would not lose his belt despite the defeat.

Dan ended 2006 on a high note, beating MMA legend VItor Belfort at PRIDE’s first stateside show PRIDE 32.  The victory set up a rematch with PRIDE middleweight legend Wanderlei Silva, with “The Axe Murderer’s” LHW strap on the line.  Henderson made a statement to all of MMA, when he leveled Wandy with a big left hook.

With that victory, Henderson had taken titles or tournament victories in three different organizations. He possessed both the PRIDE middleweight and welterweight belts—a storybook ending to a storied career, right? Nope. Not the boy from Apple Valley. 

He would just peddle his wares elsewhere, with wares being his two PRIDE championship belts, and elsewhere meant of course stepping into the world famous Octagon.

Dan’s return to the UFC was all that was to be expected. Despite losing to the bigger, younger current titlist, the enigmatic Quinton Rampage Jackson, Dan held the fight close and even dominated the first two rounds, before gassing in the third.

Following the loss of his belts, which were at this point useless trinkets following UFC parent company Zuffa’s purchase of PRIDEFC, the UFC set Dan up for a another title fight.  This time, the fight was to be against the unstoppable Muay Thai striker known to the masses as Anderson “The Spider” Silva.  Henderson started off strong, taking Anderson down, and landed a few shots from Anderson’s guard. 

Unfortunately for Dan is that one of his greatest strengths is also one of his greatest weaknesses.  Dan possesses legitimate one-punch knockout power.  Too often, we have seen him rely on that big overhand right to end the fight, but not tonight, Anderson landed pinpoint shots that had Dan moving backwards. Another shot hurt Henderson bad, It allowed Anderson to sink his hooks in, and force the tap via rear naked choke, with only eight seconds remaining in round 2.

With back to back losses, Henderson found himself firmly straddled to infamous UFC chopping block.

In typical Hollywood style, Dan took the fight the through front of him. Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rousimar Palhares.  Although many thought that Dan had been given a squash match, Palhares used his world class jiu-jitsu to keep the fight more competitive than many though possible.

The win set up a match with highly-regarded former middleweight champion Rich Franklin.  Franklin looked tentative early going and ate some big shots.  He turned it on a bit towards the end but was unable to sway the judges, losing a split decision.  The win also set up Dan Henderson as a household name in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Chosen as of the two coaches on the reality show The Ultimate Fighter.  Dan would be matched against Michael Bisping. Bisping insulted Dan several times throughout the show, which led to a fired up Henderson in the series’ finale.  Dan shocked the world, and Bisping, when he landed one of his patented overhand rights, dropping Bisping like he’d been shot.  Then ol’ Danny Boy added a little controversy when he landed a second shot, and afterwards, told reporter it was to “shut him up.”

Dan’s UFC career ended abruptly when negations between Henderson’s management team and Zuffa could not be reached.  This prompted a smaller San-Jose based promoter: Strikeforce, to snag the highly touted free agent off the market. Hendo was dropped smack into a title fight against world-renowned grappler Jake Shields. 

Seemingly overweight and unprepared for the fight, Henderson, nearly ended Shield’s night with a vicious right hand, however he missed with the follow up which gave Shields time to recover.  Shields fought a smart fight after, constantly taking the visibly tired Henderson to the mat repeatedly.

With the loss to Shields, many wondered if should retire.  Had his shelf life truly expired? Not in the next fight.  Matched against a previously beaten foe, the ever tough Renato Sobral, Henderson leveled Sobral before unleashing some of his underrated ground and pound on the helpless Brazilian.

The win catapulted Dangerous Dan to yet another title fight.  This time against rising star Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante’s light heavyweight strap.  In “Feijao,” Dan found a striker that not only wished to go toe to toe with him, he relished the thought.  Unfortunately for Rafael, Dan’s a tough nut to crack, and after a punishing back-and-forth beginning, Dangerous Dan, showed why he’s never out of a fight, dropping Cavalcante to the canvas before commencing another Hendo patented beatdown.

The Victory, over “Feijao” earned Hendo a shot at the great Fedor Emelianenko, which he once again passed with flying colors.  Dan Henderon has officially take the spot of “Baddest Old Dude” in the UFC.  With the UFC looking into a possible rematch with Anderson Silva, we may be looking at a fight between two of the greatest fighters to ever step into the cage or ring.

Regardless of what transpires, know this: Dan Henderson’s career record stands at 28-8, with 15 of those victories were stoppages.  The names on his resume should make anyone blush. From the beginning of his career to the day Father Time throws in the towel, you can bet that Dan will have added a couple more legends to his list.  

When the greatest fighter in MMA history is mentioned, Dan’s name won’t be at the top.  It just shows how unappreciated the simple wrestler from a small town is.

I, for one, think his resume, well, I think it speaks for itself.

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