Fourteen years into his Hall of Fame career, it's safe to say the incomparable Dan Henderson has seen it all. A veteran of some of the best and most grueling fights of all time, "Hendo" will put it all on the line once again this weekend at UFC 139. To prepare for what should be a splendid fight with former champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Jonathan Snowden looks back at some of Henderson's most important moments, the fights that made an undersized wrestler a legend.
UFC 17 (May 15, 1998)
Dan Henderson, a former United States Olympian, was thrown into deep waters for his UFC debut in 1998. Following in the footsteps of his friend Randy Couture, Henderson was giving mixed martial arts a try - and didn't exactly know what he was doing. "I had hit a heavy bag a few times," Henderson once told me in an interview. "But I didn't have any real training. I had never even sparred before."
Against tough Brazilian fighter Alan Goes, already a veteran who had gone to a draw with the great Frank Shamrock, Henderson was in real trouble. At one point Goes buckled Henderson with one of the hardest leg kicks ever caught on tape. Henderson just smiled. He might not know how to defend a kick like that, but he wasn't going to let it stop him. Goes was just as iron willed.
"I broke Alan's leg and he didn't stop," Frank Shamrock remembered. "That there is a fighter. If you break my leg, I'm giving up."
Finally, Goes' more refined technique got to the wrestler. Knocked down by a punch, Henderson had the wiry Brazilian on his back, Goes with his arm ready to snake under the chin. Only the softening of the sport saved him. Goes had kicked Henderson in the head before going to the mat to finish him off. By 1998, kicks to a downed opponent were illegal. Goes was pulled off the prone Henderson and, head cleared of cobwebs, Hendo went on to win a unanimous decision.
It was a hard fight. Most men would want to go home and rest, if not for a lifetime, at least for a week. But this was a different era. Henderson wasn't even done for the night. There was still the small matter of another 15 minutes with future champion Carlos Newton.
Newton, who cut his teeth in John Peretti's Extreme Fighting, was a Canadian submission specialist. But he and Henderson were a lot alike in some ways. Neither content to rely on their specialty, the two men exchanged a dizzying array of techniques before Henderson had his hand raised in victory. It was a split decision and one of the greatest fights ever seen in the Octagon.
"I knew Carlos was a jiu jitsu guy, but he came out kicking my leg," Henderson said. "I had done very little training and no sparring and I didn't know how to stop the kicks. It was a great night, despite a little bit of a sore leg, but I wish I had known a little more MMA then. It would have been a lot easier night"