Midway through the first round, an exhausted Dan Henderson tossed Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to the mat and took a huge breath. He needed to regroup and get his bearings after a furious assault failed to finish Shogun. For Dan Henderson, a long night was just beginning.
Henderson and Rua went five hard rounds in the Octagon, exchanging a variety of techniques. Both men were hurt at various times during the bout. Both were exhausted to the point it was hugely detrimental to their respective performances. But neither man ever quit.
It wasn't the greatest fight in the history of the UFC. After all, it was hard to tell if the highlights between rounds were in slow motion or real time. But what it lacked at times in vigor and crisp technique, it more than made up for with two tremendous displays of courage.
Shogun took everything Henderson had to offer for three rounds. When Henderson had nothing left to give, Rua did his best to complete an incredible comeback. Shogun had the mount for an eternity in the fifth round. This was the out many fighters would have taken. Henderson could have turned to his stomach like Eddie Alvarez had earlier in the night in a Bellator bout, giving Shogun his neck and bringing the punishment to an end. There's no shame in losing to a quality fighter, but Henderson wasn't prepared to lose.
Dan Henderson isn't built that way. Instead, he battled like a champion. Sure, he was battling for half guard, but in a larger sense he was battling for a win. Every second Rua spent trying to regain position was a second he wasn't spending working for a finish. And a finish was what it would take to steal a win from Henderson.
Henderson has long been one of the best fighters in the world. But it's only in his forties that he has begun to put his stamp on the sport. His is a hall of fame career and the defining moments, the fights fans will talk about when he walks away from the sport for good, have all come in his fourth decade on the planet. To borrow a phrase, Dan Henderson is not just a fighter. Dan Henderson is my hero.