If the UFC is so serious about safety, then why is Dan Henderson still fighting?


In a week when Zuffa announced the modification of both their drug-testing protocols and fighter-safety initiatives, it feels oddly paradoxical that Dan Henderson takes on Tim Boetsch in the main event of UFC Fight Night 68 in New Orleans on Saturday night.

Not only was the former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion a long-time user and advocate of the now banned Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), but he’s also a man approaching middle-age who continues to needlessly endanger his long-term health.

With a record of 1-5 in his last six fights, just why the 44-year-old believes it advisable to remain competing in such a blatantly hazardous setting is only for him to know.

Perhaps he still harbours what must now be considered the delusional aspiration of winning a UFC title, as means of capping off a gilded career which is approaching its 20th anniversary. Given the scope and profile of Henderson’s time in MMA, coupled with his ownership of Team Quest, it’s highly unlikely he needs the money.

In all probability, like so many of his peers, Henderson is understandably unready to conceive of a life without competition. Lest we forget, the man in question is a two-time Olympian who, since 1997, has commandeered a plethora of titles in a variety of weight classes around the globe.

As was the case with Randy Couture, it’s difficult not to admire the sheer bloody-mindedness it must require to maintain the motivation to test himself in the most exacting crucible professional sports has ever seen. But at what point does this admiration become crude voyeurism?

That’s the thing, Henderson has arguably only remained relative after all this time because he just doesn’t do boring fights. Whether they be drawn-out wars of attrition or quick-fire finishes, Hendo’s bouts rarely fail to captivate. So, rightly or wrongly, we can’t look away.

Nor, so it seems, can the UFC cut him. Just about anyone else with his recent win ratio would have long-since been pink-slipped, particularly when considering he probably commands a salary far greater than any other fighter in his current standing.  But, to quote Dana White, Henderson turns the needle.

Ultimately the choice is his, and Henderson has undoubtedly passed the battery of medical tests required of all UFC fighters prior to competing, but when your employers enable you in such a profitable manner, the bigger picture surely becomes clouded.

Now in his third stint with the UFC, a cursory glance of the Californian’s exploits since his most recent return in November 2011, do not make for pleasant reading.

On the back of his incredible victory over Fedor Emeilianenko before leaving Strikeforce, Henderson defeated Shogun Rua via unanimous decision at UFC 139 after five rounds of the most brutal and compelling fare in the history of the sport.

The punishment each man doled out and absorbed was scarcely believable and should have prompted both to reconsider their careers, especially when you factor in that Henderson had just turned 41.

The UFC awarded him a title shot against Jon Jones which had been scheduled for UFC 151, however, Henderson was forced to withdraw with a knee injury which would keep him side-lined for over a year. This proved a mixed blessing; debatably the beating Jones assuredly would have given him may been extensive enough to usher in a timely-retirement.

He would then ship to narrow split-decision losses to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida in two of the more forgettable bouts of his, or anyone else’s, career. At UFC FN 32 Henderson re-matched a similarly TRT-addled Vitor Belfort in his native Brazil, where he fell victim to one of the most brutal knockouts in recent memory.

In March of last year Henderson resumed hostilities with Shogun in another brutal encounter, which he won via third round TKO, though not without incurring more damage. A chastening rag-dolling at the hands of Daniel Cormier followed two months later at UFC 173, before he was controversially TKO’d by Gegard Mousasi upon his return to 185 lbs at UFC on Fox 14 in Stockholm last January.

In light of this week’s moves by the UFC to further safeguard the integrity of the sport and the well-being of its athletes, is it not counter-intuitive that they continue to find match-ups for this father-of-three? If they wish to fully graduate from side-show to mainstream sport, surely this is not the way to do so.

It would be remiss not to mention that Tim Boetsch – who is 10 years his junior – has ferocious power and, while he might be on a skid of his own, is a decidedly dangerous prospect for Henderson. Moreover, with the pride of each man, as well as their acute need of a victory, one of those bloody fights which made Henderson so beloved is in the offing.

Dan Henderson, regardless of how the remainder of his career transpires, will always be thought of among the sport’s true greats and pioneers. He is one of the last remaining vestiges of a moment in time when MMA was still struggling to find its place in the world, and played a significant part in helping it do so.

Which is why it would be such a crying shame if he were to be remembered as cautionary tale and not the force of nature of days gone by.

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