UFC 139 Henderson vs. Rua: Can Henderson Fight as Long as Couture?

Bryan LevickContributor INovember 19, 2011

HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 17:  Legendary MMA Superstar and two time Olympic Wrestler Dan Henderson attends the CBS' Strikeforce MMA Fighters Open Media Workout on March 17, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

It's been just over six months since we last had the honor of watching Randy Couture compete inside the octagon. Fans from all over the world understood what Couture meant to the sport and the UFC. They understood that this was a man who not only entertained us all while fighting, but lent credibility to a sport when it needed the most.

Couture retired at the ripe old age of 48 years old. Not only was he still active, he was still very competitive. In fact, he ended his career by going 3-1 as he defeated Brandon Vera, Mark Coleman and James Toney. His last loss came in his last fight against former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Getting kicked in the face and losing a tooth wasn't the ideal way to go out, but he left the sport on his own terms.

The Natural has built a legacy for himself by establishing a line of state of the art Xtreme Couture Gyms and partnering with Affliction to market MMA apparel for men, women and children. No matter where you go in the sport of mixed martial arts, there is a good chance you will see something associated with Randy Couture.

Captain America is also working on a series of training videos with Jay Glazer entitled MMAthletics. Hell, you will even see him on the silver screen as he pursues an acting career.

The fact is we could go on for hours about all of Couture's many accomplishments. That's not what we are here to discuss today. Any time an icon leaves any industry, the first thing that comes to people's minds is, who is the person that is capable of replacing them?

Most of the time there is no single individual that can carry the torch passed by the person that has just stepped away. This is never more evident than when talking about Couture.

So who's the closest fighter in the sport that could possibly carry on the tradition, be successful in and outside the Octagon and fight as long as Couture did? Right now the name that keeps coming back to me is Dan Henderson.

The similarities between the two are evident. The two men co-founded Team Quest, own their own apparel companies and have held various titles throughout their illustrious careers.

Both men were stellar collegiate wrestlers. Couture was a three-time Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling while Henderson represented the United States in 1992 and 1996 in the same sport. Couture was able to capture a gold medal in the 1991 Pan-American Games; Henderson medaled three times. In 1994 Henderson took home the silver medal, the bronze medal in 1998 and gold in 2000.

Their list of opponents reads as a who's who in the world of mixed martial arts. Couture has faced Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Josh Barnett, just to name a few. Henderson has faced Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva and Quinton Jackson. Both men have faced Vitor Belfort and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as well. So many men have been left off of this list, but the point has been made. Couture and Henderson always looked for the big fights; they never ducked anyone.

On top of all that has been mentioned, Couture has held titles as both a heavyweight and a light heavyweight while Henderson wore the Pride welterweight championship and middleweight championship simultaneously. The similarities don't end there, but once again it's easy to see just how parallel their careers have run. 

Two major differences are their styles and their age. Couture utilized a solid clinch game and dirty boxing. Henderson still incorporates some of his wrestling into his fights, but he has become more of a stand-up fighter because of the dynamite he packs in his right hand. Couture is 48 and Henderson turned 41 this past August. The age is the biggest factor here, can Henderson last another seven years in a brutal sport where today's fighters are better athletes and more well rounded than ever.

Working in Henderson's favor is the fact that he has never been knocked out. He still has one of the best chins in the business, and until he gets put to sleep he avoids losing one of his biggest strengths. Couture started to lose his chin after getting knocked out by Liddell in their second fight at UFC 52. He would go on to get knocked out three more times throughout the rest of his career. Once you get put to sleep it becomes easier and easier to fall victim to the knockout.

Henderson, like Couture, is a tireless worker and remains in phenomonal shape. Couture was known for running circles around his training partners even though some of them were half his age. Henderson is beating fighters like Rafael Cavalcante who, at 30 years old, is 11 years younger than Henderson.

Tonight in the main event of UFC 139 Henderson will face Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in a battle between the former Pride stars. Rua will be 29 when he enters the Octagon—a full 12 years younger than Hendo.

Without the slightest bit of evidence suggesting he's slowing down, it seems as though Henderson is capable of fighting well into his late 40s. The question remains: will he still be competitive when he gets there?