After a long, prestigious, nearly 20-year career, MMA legend Dan Henderson will get one last shot at UFC gold when he faces middleweight champion Michael Bisping at UFC 204, Bisping vs Henderson 2 on Oct. 8 in Manchester, England.
Having made his UFC debut at UFC 17 in May 1988, the 46-year-old Henderson was the last Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion and was the last welterweight and middleweight champion of Pride Fighting Championships. In fact, Henderson was the only mixed martial artist to concurrently hold two titles in two different weight classes in a major MMA promotion.
Recently, MP reporter Art Garcia Jr. caught up with the former two-time olympic wrestler to ask him a few questions about his upcoming UFC title fight.
Art Garcia Jr.: Thoughts on your upcoming rematch with Michael Bisping?
Dan Henderson: I’m excited about it. The opportunity to get a UFC belt that has been a goal to get for a long time, it’s kind of the last thing I haven’t done in this sport, and to be able to have this opportunity is exciting to me.
AG: Ever since he won the belt over Luke Rockhold, Bisping has been telling everybody how much he’s wanted this rematch with you. How much have you wanted it, if at all?
DH: I didn’t need a rematch — there was no reason for me to … he had nothing to offer me before. I mean, if he didn’t have the belt it wouldn’t be exciting to me. There’s no way I can duplicate what I did the last time and finish him in quite the phenomenal manner — granted I’ll definitely try to do that again and hopefully I can give that to the fans again. I’m not counting on doing that again, but I am counting on beating him.
AG: A knockout is like baseball where if you come up to bat just swinging for a home run you’re likely to strikeout. So you can’t enter the octagon seeking a knockout, if it happens it happens, correct?
DH: Yeah, it’s pretty much the same concept. I just want to make sure I’m scoring points and winning rounds, staying active and beating him up the whole time.
AG: What is it like to land one of your famous “H-Bombs” and knock somebody out?
DH: Well, you brought up the baseball analogy so its like hitting a grand slam — and that one being in UFC 100 when I did that to him last, it was like hitting the grand slam in the World Series because it was their (UFC) biggest show to date that they had at that point. So it was something pretty special.
AG: Many people speculate on what an athlete perceives as his or her best performance — was that knockout of Bisping the best punch you ever landed on an opponent?
DH: No. I’ve landed some damn good punches on an opponent before and after that gave me a bigger sense of accomplishment than doing it on him. He was a tough guy, but he hadn’t really accomplished that much at to that point, he had a decent record and was a well-rounded guy that was tough and kept coming.
AG: Were you surprised he was able to knockout Rockhold?
DH: Yeah, I think me and the rest of the world were pretty surprised he was able to do that.
AG: Have you ever landed one of those right hands on a guy where you thought he’s going down and instead he was able to shake it off and continue fighting?
DH: Yeah, I’ve landed some punches on some guys where their knees buckled or maybe halfway got rocked that I was surprised that they didn’t go down. A lot of it is where it lands on them and not necessarily how hard it is — granted the power definitely helps but you still need to put it in the right place.
AG: Your first fight was in 1997. Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you would still be fighting some 20 years later?
DH: No, I fought just to make some money and to keep wrestling, and after the 2000 Olympic trials I decided I’ll do it a little more full time. And then I thought, maybe I’ll do it for a year or maybe two years and make some money and be done because it was just my body was beat up so much from wrestling. But as I kept fighting I enjoyed it so much, I was making good money and my body was feeling better than it was from when I was wrestling. We just compete so much in wrestling that you don’t have time to recover and in fighting we’re fighting three times a year so it’s not that bad.
AG: What has been the key to your success during all these years?
DH: Being smart with my training, learning along the way, keeping in shape and not beating my body up.
AG: Do you think Bisping’s trash talking is a way for him to either hype himself up, try to get you irritated or to add more intrigue to the fight?
DH: Oh I don’t know, I don’t pay much attention to it — even if I did pay attention to it, it wouldn’t bother me. I expect it from him. I think the world expects him to open his mouth more than he should, and I welcome that. It’ll make it sweeter when I knock him out and it will make it better for the fans to see me knock him out.
AG: When you knocked him out in the first fight it was so devastating that many people thought he was seriously hurt. I would think that memory would still be somewhere in the back of his head, correct?
DH: Well, you would think so but you never know — he might talk to himself enough to try to remove it from his memory banks, who knows? But I have to think that I’ll always be his big brother in his mind.
AG: How about a prediction?
DH: I don’t know. I’m not expecting a knockout although it would be nice. But I need to be ready to go beat him up for five rounds … but I think there’s a good chance I’ll knock him out again.
Ringside: Aside from his kids being born, Henderson said (without much reflection) his proudest moment in his MMA career would probably be his knockouts of either Fedor Emelianenko and Vandalia Silva or winning his second Pride FC championship where he held belts simultaneously in two different weight divisions. As for his post-fighting career aspirations, he would like to be a spokesperson for the UFC and maybe do some work as an analyst on television in addition to operating his gym Team Quest in Temecula.