SAN FRANCISCO -- At this point, Dan Henderson can afford to look back and laugh.
Henderson must have figured he’d seen the last of the UFC when he decamped for Strikeforce amid a contract dispute in 2009. Some three years later however, it’s clear that his gamble has paid off.
He's about to complete that rarest of feats for a professional fighter -- returning to the world's largest MMA promotion in a better bargaining position than when he left -- and that gives him a lot smile about these days.
“I’ve got no complaints or no regrets about leaving the UFC in the first place, it was all business and it was a good decision for me ...,” Henderson said on Thursday, two days before he’ll begin his third tour of duty in the Octagon at UFC 139. “I had no idea if I was coming back or not until I heard that Dana bought Strikeforce, because he missed me.”
At 41 years old, Hendo is nearly assured of finishing his career as a UFC star. The fact that his return to the organization will take the form of a light heavyweight No. 1 contenders' bout against Mauricio Rua this weekend is due largely to the things he was able to accomplish in the smaller promotion.
His 205-pound victories over Renato Sobral and Rafael Cavalcante returned him to relevance and put the Strikeforce light heavyweight title around his waist. His heavyweight knockout of Fedor Emelianenko in July secured his legacy and paved the way for him to re-enter the UFC at a time when his value has arguably never been higher.
Score that as a major victory for Henderson, with a significant assist from Strikeforce, of course.
“I enjoyed my fights in Strikeforce,” he said. “The organization treated me well ... I was satisfied there, I was happy there, but with that being said I’m happy to be back in the UFC as well.”
Castillo not the vacationing kind
Castillo booked a cruise with his girlfriend, his sister and his mom, aiming to spend a week of R&R in South Florida and Mexico. He wanted to chill out, to let go, but said things got off to a rocky start when he arrived in Miami to discover it was jellyfish season.
“I was in the water, I had a beer in my hand and there were jellyfish everywhere,” Castillo said. “So, it wasn’t that cool.”
There was also the small matter of that loss to Volkmann, which kept eating at him. The unanimous decision defeat had snapped a three-fight win streak for him and had been his first official setback since crossing over from the WEC to UFC. Castillo is not the type of guy to take that lightly.
“You go on vacation [for a] release, but unfortunately I’m an emotional person, so I just thought about the fight the whole time,” he said. “It was hard to unwind ... I tried to put on a smile and act like the loss didn’t affect me, but deep down inside losing doesn’t sit well with me.”
By the time the week-long vacation was over, Castillo was running three or four miles day on the cruise ship and once he returned to Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, he set his sights on returning to the cage as soon as possible.
Next stop: This weekend’s scrap with Shamar Bailey.
“I was glad enough to get a fight so soon after a loss,” he said. “I talked to my manager and said, ‘I don’t care who it is, just get me a fight.’”
Le’s got jokes
Cung Le is keeping it decidedly light leading up to his UFC debut against Wanderlei Silva. With a 17-month break between his win over Scott Smith in Strikeforce in June '10 and this weekend’s UFC 139, it’s clear Le spent at least some of his down time writing up prepared material to entertain fans and media.
When asked if finally getting an opportunity to fight the Octagon makes it feel like he’s starting his whole MMA career anew, Le said he hoped that wasn’t the case.
“For my first MMA fight, I threw up in the back,” he said. “I hope I don’t throw up this time, because when I throw up, it comes out my nose too and it’s really bad. So, I’m going to try to skip on the throwing up.”
Le also cracked on his training (“I’ve been chasing my kids, because they help me get in shape”), his game plan (“Bring the lightning, followed by the thunder”) and what it’ll feel like to make his promotional debut in front of hometown fans (“It’s like the top of the food chain. I finally got here, now I just gotta eat the food”).
One topic on which Le briefly played it straight, however, was Silva. The former Pride champ may have lost six of his last eight fights, but Le said he expects it’ll still be serious business in the cage this weekend.
“Wanderlei’s back is against the wall,” he said. “He’s probably more dangerous now because it’s do or die for him.”
Faber to take judges to school
Prior to his UFC 139 fight against Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber is clearly still stinging from a unanimous decision loss to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in July. When the topic came up this week, Faber said that the real problem may be with the ringside judges. Perhaps his strategy against Cruz was just too complicated for them, Faber implied, saying he’d keep it simpler next time.
“Some of these old judges have never wrestled Division I, they’ve never done jiu-jitsu at a high level, they’ve never kickboxed,” Faber said. “A lot of them have their jobs and they don’t want to give them up, so you’ve got to paint a picture that a kindergartner can understand.”