The UFC 93 main event, fought at 205 pounds, was a matchup that had been anticipated for years. Henderson was the last Pride champion at 183, and Franklin was the UFC's titleholder at 185 until Anderson Silva came along.
Silva beat both men, but few others hold a win over either.
Henderson, 38, of Temecula, Calif., turned a slip into a takedown early. On the ground, he controlled Franklin while drilling him with right hands, which arguably did the most damage in the round.
"I think I had him hurt there for a little bit, but I think he had enough experience to stay calm," Henderson said.
Franklin, 34, eventually escaped and kicked well to Henderson's body during the exchanges that followed. For the most part, Henderson's big right hand stayed loaded while Franklin kept him off balance with kicks and movement.
An accidental head butt left Franklin with a cut near his hairline. The former UFC middleweight champion had the more effective striking game on the feet, but Henderson took him down out of the clinch midway into the period and stayed active from the top position.
The Cincinnati native came out aggressively for the final round, but again Henderson was able to take him down.
Franklin had to get up, and he did. He was the fresher of the two fighters and pursued Henderson for the rest of the round with kicks to his body and straight lefts. An accidental eye-poke late slowed Franklin's rally, but he still earned the period.
A close fight then went to the judges, who returned a split decision for Henderson with two 29-28 scores in his favor and one 30-27 score for Franklin.
"I felt like I definitely won the first two rounds," said Henderson, whose victory grants him a spot opposite Michael Bisping on the upcoming season of "The Ultimate Fighter." "Third round, he did well. I probably would have [given] that one to him, but 30-27 for him was a little off."
Rua wins but fails to impress
Coleman, a 44-year-old former UFC heavyweight champion who was fighting at 205 pounds for the first time, took a leg kick and a knee but finished his opening takedown attempt seconds into the fight. He punched hard to Rua's head until Rua escaped and later executed his own takedown.
The fighters reversed position and scrambled often. As Coleman tired, Rua battered him with kicks to his legs, knees to his body and a right hand that dropped him.
Coleman looked exhausted to begin the second round, while Rua scored more points with kicks and punches. The former Ohio State wrestler finished a double-leg but couldn't keep his opponent down. On the feet, Coleman held his hands at his waist and plodded around the Octagon with his mouth open. Rua, however, fought a messy fight and also seemed to run out of gas.
Despite his fatigue, Coleman continued to connect with punches and finish takedowns in Round 3. Rua landed more strikes, of course, but he could not finish the fight until a late flurry floored Coleman and prompted referee Kevin Mulhall to intervene at 4:36.
"I think I deserve another [shot at Rua]," Coleman said. "It's one to one. Let's do it again, Shogun. I respect you, but I can beat you."
Palhares handles Horn
Palhares, 28, tripped Horn to the mat in the opening minute. Horn, 33, gave his back while trying to roll out, which allowed Palhares to pound away on the side of his head. Eventually Horn got to his feet only to be body-locked back down to the same position, where Palhares teed off to conclude a dominating round.
Horn came to life in Round 2. Palhares lifted him high for a slam and quickly moved to his back on the ground. Horn defended, however, and eventually finished a single-leg takedown off a scramble and mounted Palhares. The Brazilian escaped, but back on the feet Horn landed a left hook before giving up another takedown.
Palhares scored a suplex to start the third. He would go on to control Horn for the rest of the period, though Horn was savvy enough to stay in the fight as Palhares slowed considerably.
All three judges called the fight 30-27 for Palhares, who said afterward that he had broken his hand in the first round.
Kang conquered in Octagon debut
Also at 185 pounds, Denis Kang was impressive early but lost his UFC debut to Alan Belcher. He connected with his hands before grounding Belcher, who gave up side control but eventually kicked him away and returned to his feet.
Back on the feet, Kang, a standout in Pride, continued to outbox his foe with a left hook to the body and a glancing right upstairs. A shout came from Belcher's corner for him to "wake up," but soon after Kang finished another takedown and worked on a kimura.
Belcher landed a good body kick in the second, but Kang had little trouble returning the fight to the mat. There, Belcher threatened with a sweep and forced a stalemate that led to a standup. That's when Kang shot again, and Belcher sprawled perfectly, wrapped up a guillotine, pulled guard and submitted him at 4:36.
"I wish I could have been more dominating so I could come in here and call out the champion but I think I need one or two more fights before that," said Belcher, a 24-year-old from Biloxi, Miss., who has won four of his last five in the Octagon.
Davis battles past Lytle
With a singing Irish audience as background music, Lytle, 34, of Indianapolis, landed a right hand that staggered Davis in the opening 30 seconds. After recovering, however, Davis, 35, began following a strategy devised no doubt in conjunction with world-class trainer Mark DellaGrotte.
The Irish Hand Grenade did not stand toe-to-toe with the hard-punching Lytle. Instead, minutes into the fight, it was clear that he would use his superior footwork, counterpunching and kicks.
Lytle stuck with his bombs, which did connect from time to time. He rocked Davis again early in the second period and flurried on him against the cage. Davis covered up but still took some shots on his ears before hustling away, finding his footing and planting a kick into Lytle's body that floored him.
That kick and countless others were Davis' answer to Lytle's winging punches. He also made Lytle pay with careful counterpunching, but Lytle proved capable of taking punishment and still moving forward to dish out his own.
The third round was more of the same. Lytle stalked forward while throwing the more powerful strikes while Davis countered with more technical boxing and additional kicks and knees. By the end of the fight, both men had swollen eyes and bruised bodies. Lytle's side, in particular, was blue and welted from his opponent's kicks.
The judges were split on the entertaining fight, scoring it 29-28 twice for Davis and once for Lytle.
Joe Hall covers MMA for Sherdog.com.