Hendo has earned the right to wait!
By now, we all know sitting on the sidelines to wait for a specific matchup or a particularly lucrative bout is a bad idea for the typical UFC fighter.
Just ask Rashad Evans, who spent nearly a year in limbo after opting to wait for then-champion Mauricio Rua to return from a knee injury. That was 2010, and Evans will only now finally get his chance at the light heavyweight title at UFC 145, assuming nothing else goes wrong for him between now and then.
Evans' mistake serves as a cautionary tale for most UFC fighters, who have learned that staying busy is the better way to spend their time and the better way to please their bosses.
Fortunately for him, Dan Henderson is not most UFC fighters. He's not typical. Far from it.
Unlike almost anyone else on the UFC roster, it actually makes perfect sense for Henderson to wait for the winner of Evans' championship bout with Jon Jones.
At 41 years old, Hendo has carved out a fairly unique place in the MMA landscape. He's a hero to hardcore MMA fans and a favorite to casual observers alike. Career-defining wins over Wanderlei Silva, Michael Bisping, Fedor Emelianenko and Rua have catapulted him to near-legendary status.
Henderson's achievements have seemingly only gotten more impressive with age (see: his KO of Emelianenko in July), and after defeating Rua in what many consider to be the greatest fight in MMA history at UFC 139, he can basically write his own ticket in the Octagon from here on out.
Of course, he's also working with a very limited window. Henderson knows that as well as anyone. He's made it plain that he's only interested in "big fights" moving forward. Forcing him into a placeholder bout against a lesser contender like Antonio Rogerio Nogueira or Vitor Belfort or (even worse) an up-and-comer like Alexander Gustafsson would frankly be a waste of his singular position in the sport.
It wouldn't make sense for him and it wouldn't make sense for the UFC, either. And when you see the word "sense" in any of these sentences you may as well substitute the word "money." It's essentially the same thing.
There are really only two opponents who fit the bill for Hendo in the UFC right now: the Jones-Evans winner and Anderson Silva. Is it a risk for him to wait for those guys? Maybe, but for him to jeopardize his tremendous political capital by taking another bout would be a much larger gamble.
Cage rust is Hendo's biggest enemy
Dan Henderson has made up his mind: He will sit and wait to face Jon Jones. On its surface, the decision appears to be wise. Henderson is currently UFC's most attractive 205-pound contender for Jones, who is the early favorite to retain his belt against Evans. But a closer examination reveals that Hendo is taking some risks.
Jones is a champion who loves staying active. He fought four times last year, an average of once every three months. So let's say Jones beats Evans. The earliest he is likely to return will be July. And that depends solely on Jones exiting the cage April 21 fully healthy. But Jones leaving the cage injury-free is no guarantee. He has had recurring right-hand injuries since his days as a collegiate wrestler. It was an injured right hand, after his win over then-champ Mauricio Rua in March, that forced Jones to withdraw from a scheduled Aug. 6 title defense against Evans. Jones' right hand usually heals quickly, but as was the case after his bout with Rua, the recovery time can be slower.
But for the sake of argument, let's assume Jones suffers no injuries against Evans and agrees to face Henderson in July. That would put Henderson's time away from the Octagon at eight months. And based on his performances over the past few years, the 41-year-old doesn't often fare well when he competes after a layoff of five or more months.
Since 2007, Henderson has lost only three of 10 fights. Each of those losses has come after he'd been out of action for at least five months. Henderson had not fought in nearly seven months in September 2007 when he returned to UFC and lost to Quinton Jackson in a light heavyweight title fight. Nearly six months later, Hendo would suffer his second loss in a row. UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva submitted him via rear-naked choke. He rebounded by winning his next three UFC bouts, the final one coming July 11, 2009 -- a second-round knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
Shortly after that win, however, Henderson parted ways with UFC and joined Strikeforce. His first fight with that promotion occurred in April 2010 -- nine months removed from his previous bout. Once again, after a layoff of five-plus months, Henderson lost. Then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields defeated Hendo by unanimous decision in April 2010.
The pattern is clear: Henderson is less effective the longer he's inactive. Maybe his timing goes or he slows down. Regardless, this doesn't bode well for him against Jones. But Jones isn't the only issue that should be of concern to Henderson. There's the Evans factor. If Evans upsets Jones, which isn't so far-fetched, it's possible that all bets are off for a Henderson light heavyweight title shot.
"Dan Henderson is in position now where it looks like he wants to wait for Jon Jones," Dana White said. "We'll see what happens with this Rashad fight."
But what is there to see? Sounds like UFC has many more title fight options if Evans is champion -- a Jones rematch, or possibly Lyoto Machida. Henderson, who turns 42 in August, could find himself on the outside looking in.
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