After Hendo stops Shogun: What now?

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The rematch between Dan Henderson and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua was perfect UFC Fight Night matchmaking. Both men have the sort of long-term brand recognition which would translated by Joe Rogan as ‘legendary’ status; the back and forth brawl that was their first fight was celebrated as one of the organisation’s greatest, and the narrow decision victory provided a perfect pretext to do it all over again.

Of course, there was never any real prospect of a repeat performance. Both men are far too equipped to end fights and, alas, too old not to make no mistakes over the course of 25 minutes. Dan Henderson finished things early in the first after breaking Rua’s nose with a powerful right hook exiting the clinch. With Herb Dean’s nascent pacifism, there was never really any prospect of Shogan absorbing more than a couple of hits, and the former Olympian was dragged from his opponent as he scrambled desperately for a single-leg.

Elation for the victor, of course, but what was really learnt from this fight and where does either man go from here? Both still occupy the top 10 places within a rather thin looking light-heavyweight division, but are either prospects for a shot at Jon Jones’ title? It seems unlikely; even with the win behind him, Henderson is now 43 years old, was recently demolished by the middleweight Vitor Belfort, and, without the TRT he claims is entirely medically necessary, he is unlikely to be able to keep pace with any of the five fighters ranked above him. His attempt to goad Lyoto Machida into a bout in place of the injured Chris Weidman bore the hallmarks of a man looking to squeeze in one more last big pay day.

Rua, while he may be much younger chronologically, bears a body at least as ravaged by battles in the cage as Henderson. His injuries have left a far more inconsistent and frustrating figure than the phenom who devastated Pride in his early 20s. He performed well in his first fight with Machida, despite dropping a narrow decision, and was perhaps a little fortunate in the rematch, but took the title via TKO. However, this did not herald the expected era of domination.

After losing the belt to a dominant Jon Jones, Shogun has alternated between looking lean, sharp and deadly, to soft, slow, and wheezy. There seems to have been little in-between. His most recent efforts are a case in point; Rua defeated Australian bruiser James Te Huna in impressive fashion in less than a minute. He had spent a portion of his time prior to that win training his boxing with legendary trainer Freddy Roach and his performance was written about- once again- as a turning of the corner for a fighter who had finally overcome his injury woes.

Alas, this was simply another false dawn, and the one-time champion appeared slow, soft, and disinterested against Henderson. His hands slumped by his sides, and seemingly tired by the walk to the octagon, he threw his shots with a fraction of the venom with which he gained his renown and Hendo’s victory seemed inevitable from the moment the horn blew- even if it came a little sooner than anticipated. Rua’s collapse to the canvas betrayed a defeat far greater than one precipitated alone by the iron fists of Dan Henderson, it revealed a man grown weary of the sport which will one day regard him as among its greatest. If he wishes that legacy to not be further tarnished, however, he may well consider that his time amongst the elite is well and truly up.

By Ben Szwediuk

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