Henderson vs Rua: Greatest Fight in UFC History?

November 19th, 2011 is a night that UFC fans will never forget. On that night, live on pay per view from San Jose, California, Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua delivered fans the greatest fight in UFC history. BlackSportsOnline.com MMA Insider Alex Donno looks back at the fight that has world talking. Even if you are a casual fan, you should try and find this fight online or order the replay.

After a grueling twenty-five minutes of back and forth power punches, takedowns, cuts, and near knockout finishes, fans were left wanting more. The nonstop action was so remarkable, that it almost seemed choreographed, like something out of a Rocky movie. By the time the final horn sounded, few could predict who the winner on the scorecards would be, but such a formality seemed irrelevant. Both men had dramatic ups, downs, bumps, and bruises during their five round battle. But both showed the heart of a champion. Chances are, any fan that began watching the fight with a rooting interest in one or the other, finished watching it with a mountain of respect for both. Dan Henderson was awarded a unanimous decision by a slim margin. But in the eyes of the fans, he and Shogun were both winners.

Henderson set the tone early. Just thirty seconds into the opening round, he landed a well timed short right hand to Shogun’s temple. Seconds later, he failed to clasp his hands around Shogun’s neck for a guillotine choke. After breaking free from the choke, Shogun found his back pressed up against the corner of the cage. That’s when Henderson unleashed a barrage of looping punches to the head. It was a combination of blows that would have sent most any foe falling to the canvas, but Shogun remained standing. Just a minute into the fight, Shogun’s face was already a bloody mess. But there he stood, ready to endure whatever punishment Henderson could unload. Surely at that moment, Henderson realized he was in for a war.

Throughout the first three rounds, Henderson continually found a home for his powerful right hand. But Shogun kept charging forward for more. No matter how much punishment “Hendo” dished out, Shogun remained the aggressor. One couldn’t help but assume it was only a matter of time before Henderson separated him from his senses. Such an end nearly came midway through round three. Henderson landed a clubbing right hand that dropped Shogun. He followed him to the ground and scored with several more stiff punches, as Shogun turtle up. Had referee Josh Rosenthal stopped the fight for a TKO at that moment, no one would have complained. Instead, he allowed the fight to continue just long enough for Shogun to regain his composure, and prove that he could still intelligently defend. He even had the wherewithal to attack Henderson’s leg for a heel hook. The submission failed, but allowed him to stand back up. Shogun finished the round with a takedown, followed by a handful of significant punches to a tired Henderson. That’s when the tides began to turn.

In the final two rounds, Henderson was completely gassed. Somehow, despite enduring more punishment than his opponent, Shogun was the fresher of the two. After escaping another Henderson guillotine choke attempt early in the fourth, Shogun began finding his range and landing punches in the standup. He stunned Hendo with an uppercut, took him down moments later, and nearly finished the fight with strikes from the mount, before a Henderson reversal. In the fifth and final round, Shogun took Henderson down early, and quickly transitioned into the mount once again. Henderson spent the final four minutes of the fight simply surviving, as Shogun out-struck him in the round 79 to 8, according to Fightmetric.com. Despite the dominant round by Shogun, Henderson’s striking in the first three frames was enough to secure the decision.

Most observers scored the final round 10-8 in favor of Shogun. Assuming Shogun also won round four (by a score of 10-9), the fight could have easily been scored a 47-47 draw. However, all three judges scored the final frame 10-9 for Shogun, and the fight for Henderson, 48-47. While few will protest after such a competitive and close fight, UFC President Dana White admitted he also thought a draw would have been the right decision.

To White, “It could be the best fight ever in MMA. “ After all, the fight had everything. Near finishes, fight saving transitions and sweeps, submission attempts, brutal punches, and blood. Lots of blood, most of which was surrounding Shogun’s left eye. The damage was evident on both men’s faces and bodies, each with blood stained fight trunks after twenty five minutes of action. For many, the battle scars displayed on Hendo and Shogun are a symbol of what both men put their bodies through to produce a classic fight to satisfy not only their unquenchable thirst for competition, but most importantly, to satisfy the fans. But for some, the blood is a symbol of unnecessary brutality. To those who aren’t familiar with mixed martial arts, the violence of UFC 139’s main event might have been alarming. Without understanding the true extent of the elite physical and mental training these athletes go through to master so many techniques and disciplines, it’s easy to view MMA as street fighting, or worse, “human cockfighting.” It’s a concern that Dana White is acutely aware of. And it’s why he admitted he was thankful that this particular fight, great as it was, wasn’t featured on November 12th’s Fox Television debut.

Despite calling it the best UFC fight he’s ever seen, Dana White felt that Henderson-Rua would have brought negative consequences had it been the first UFC fight shown on the Fox Network. Naturally, just a week removed from the 64 second long Fox main event between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, many fans, in hindsight, wished Henderson-Rua had been the featured Fox bout instead. White insists he doesn’t share their sentiment. When asked about it by SB Nation’s Ariel Helwani, he quickly dismissed the notion that Henderson-Rua would have inspired a mass conversion of new fans. In his mind, the general public needs to be eased into MMA slowly, and likely isn’t quite ready for such a bloody bout. “If that fight was on broadcast television the other night, you’d have had people coming out saying ‘get this off the air.’ We’re going to have to ease our way on to network television.” Hopefully sooner than later, the general public will learn to appreciate the type of action that UFC 139 delivered.

Even without a network television platform, word will surely spread about the epic fight between Henderson and Rua. Expect to see fight videos, pictures and summaries spread throughout the internet for weeks to come. For those who are ready to appreciate a fight that was both violent and technical between two of MMA’s biggest stars, Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua might very well be the catalyst needed to turn casual viewers into UFC fans for life.

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