UFC: Why Dan Henderson Is Even More the Man That You Thought

Elton HobsonCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2011

Anyone who’s followed MMA news recently knows what a PR sh*tstorm the UFC has been navigating (or not, to go by some folks) these last couple of days.

Rape jokes. More rape jokes. Penn State jokes. Moral indignation and outrage. Miguel Torres getting fired because of said indignation and outrage. More outrage over Torres getting fired—and so it goes.

Oh, and some guy named “Georges” something got injured. I don’t think that’s important right now though…

Back to the scandal!

The latest UFC fighter with a possible PR problem is Dan Henderson. Recently, no less a reputable news outlet than TMZ.com “outed” Hendo for leaving a club recently with his friend, Detroit Tigers pitcher Brad Penny. Oh, and two smokin’ chicks on his arm.

Now, I’m guessing you, like most, had one of two reactions to this picture:

Reaction 1: Oh, Dan, aren’t you a married man? Why are you leaving a club with two women? What about the high moral standards set by your employer, the UFC? Why won’t you think of the children?!

Reaction 2: Awwwww yeah.

Actually, I lied before: No one had the first reaction. There isn’t any “controversy” around this story, except that it forced Dan to go public with his divorce, which he had been keeping from the public for the sake of his kids.

Pointless photo of no real news value that only serve to embarrass children? Take a bow, TMZ.

Okay, so there’s no scandal here. As I looked at this photo, however, I couldn’t help but think how utterly appropriate it was as an “end-of-the-year summation” of the 2011 that Dan Henderson has had.

I remember watching Hendo face Anderson Silva way back in early 2008. When Anderson submitted Dan in the second round, making it look as easy as he always does, it looked like the end for ol’ Dan. I remember more than a few people saying Henderson was officially “done” as an elite-level fighter. I remember no one speaking up to dispute that assertion.

Admit it: At that time, you were probably thinking the same thing.

Then there was Mike Bisping and a UFC 100 KO that has become a part of legend. Before that fight, Dan Henderson was the MMA legend you were always explaining to your friends: Who he was, where he had fought, and why he was someone to care about.

After that punch, you never had to explain again.

And then, just like that, Dana White let him go. Oh, it wasn’t a “firing,” not in the same sense that Dana White “fired” Miguel Torres recently for joking about rape on Twitter.

Fun fact: When Dana referred to that one anonymous source in a Sherdog story as a “f*ggot” way back when, he meant a bundle of sticks. Just clarifying. We don’t want anyone to get the impression the UFC isn’t all about family values here.

No, Dan and Dana just disagreed on contract details. Dan figured he was the kick-ass rock star that just KO’ed Mike Bisping into next year. Dana figured he was an overpaid old guy who had already lost both his UFC title fights.

So away Dan went to Strikeforce at the “peak” of his popularity. People hailed the move as the “signing of the century,” and Dan got a headlining fight on network television. This was his moment.

Twenty-five minutes underneath Jake Shields later, and Dan was, once again, “done.” I’m not exaggerating here when I say that a solid 95 percent of the MMA fan base was throwing dirt on Hendo’s grave by the time the bell rung against Shields. He looked slow, tired and, at times, almost helpless off his back. He looked old.

If Dan had walked away then, would anyone have really blamed him? It was hardly his best performance, and besides—what else did he have to prove?

Thank God he didn’t.

In the last calendar year, Hendo has gone 4-0, with three of those wins coming via a crushing KO. Two of them were over legit MMA icons. One was for a world title, and the other just so happens to be the current front-runner for “Fight of the Year.”

As of right now, Hendo is once again “back.” But to even type that sentence now just feels silly and even shortsighted. He was “back” when he KO’ed Wanderlei and he was “back” when he KO’ed Bisping and he was “back” when he won the Strikeforce belt and now, once again, he’s “back” after going through hell with Shogun Rua.

Like the unstoppable, never-say-die zombie that he is, Hendo waited for his third (at least) career resurrection to put forth his best-ever effort. I’d argue that the streak he’s had this past year represents the pinnacle of his career, in terms of in-cage success, strong performances and fan (and financial) recognition.

Going undefeated, KO’ing Fedor, snagging a belt and winning the “Fight of the Year.” That’s a hell of a year, folks.

And it ends, as it should, with Hendo looking like the man himself, walking out of a club with his MLB pitcher buddy and two gorgeous women he’ll get to…uh…work on his cardio with.

Dan Henderson is the man. We already knew that.

I just hope we remember it the next time he’s “done.”