If there was one spectator of the UFC on FOX 2 show in Chicago on Jan. 28 with a heavily vested interest, it was Dan Henderson, the circumstantial No. 1 contender in the light heavyweight division, and a circumstantial top challenger in the middleweight division. Henderson is a renaissance contender. The problem is, he’s a renaissance contender with the most stubborn obstacles.
We saw how things turned out. Rashad Evans beat Phil Davis to finally punch his ticket to Jon Jones, and Chael Sonnen escaped Michael Bisping to set up what might become the biggest event in MMA history with Anderson Silva. For as perfect as those match-ups look for finality to long-fostered acrimony, this left 41-year-old Dan Henderson in the lurch.
At least as far symbolic belts are concerned.
Contrary to popular belief, though, Henderson isn’t necessarily interested in waiting to see how Jones-Evans plays out to firm up his shot. He says if there’s an opponent that makes sense, he’d like to fight sooner rather than later. Waiting isn’t his style.
“That was never what I said or anything,” Henderson told ESPN.com. “I don’t know who said that, but it wasn’t me. My thoughts were I was waiting to see what happened with Rashad [Evans] and Phil Davis. That was the only thing I was going to wait for.”
The person who said that was Dana White himself, who told media that Henderson was in a position where it “looks like he’ll wait for Jon Jones.” That would be fine and good for Henderson, if the UFC could promise a quick turnaround after the Jones-Evans fight in Atlanta on April 21. Problem is, guarantees like that aren’t realistic given the hazards of the fight game.
“Obviously you can’t guarantee that nobody gets hurt,” Henderson says. “I don’t know what the plan is, but I’d fight whoever it is they think would be a good match-up. The problem is there’s really nobody right now who fits the bill for a title contention fight, that would make sense to fight me. I don’t know. Maybe I’d fight at a different weight class. I don’t know if they see anybody at heavyweight that would make sense? But I would prefer to fight someone in April or May.”
Henderson turned down a title eliminator with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira that would have been the headlining bout for the now-scrapped Montreal card. He did that because he was waiting to see what would happen with Evans-Davis. Now with Evans having won and Nogueira booked to fight Alexander Gustafsson in Sweden on April 14, Henderson is left without a dance partner.
And that opens up a range of possibilities. One of them is fighting at heavyweight. Though he had to drink a gallon of water to make weight in his final Strikeforce bout with Fedor Emelianenko in July, fighting bigger guys has never spooked Henderson. In fact, it can’t help but intrigue him.
“For sure it does,” he says. “Who do the fans want me to fight at heavyweight? I’d have to think about that. I don’t know who at heavyweight would even make sense. The heavyweights that are in title contention right now wouldn’t want to fight me. I don’t know who is out there, but I did let the UFC know I’d be open to that as well.”
There is one fight that could be on the horizon that Henderson would strongly consider, and yet again it’s circumstantial. If Quinton Jackson were to beat Ryan Bader at UFC 144 on Feb. 26, he says that a rematch of their 2007 UFC title tilt would be fun.
“I would entertain that fight, sure; it’s a big fight,” he says. “I mean, that’s only one win he’d be coming off of. But again, it depends on the circumstances and I don’t know what they’re talking about in terms of the turnaround after Jones/Evans. Still, the Quinton Jackson/Bader fight is two months before Jones/Evans.”
Whatever the route, as long as it leads to a title shot -- preferably in his natural 205-pound weight class -- Hendo is all for it. If you’ve followed Hendo throughout his career, you know that he loves the idea of conquering indestructible forces. He’s made a career of it. And it’s no different if he gets his wish and finds himself standing across from Jon Jones in 2012.
“I think he’s definitely shown some inexperience,” he says of Jones. “He makes up for it with a lot of athleticism and just unorthodox striking. He definitely -- like anybody -- has holes in his game, and I just think that my style would match up real well with him.”
But first things first: Hendo will have to navigate through the set of circumstances that are right now preventing it.