HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Back in early 2008, Dan Henderson found himself in a situation similar to what Fedor Emelianenko was in heading into tonight's fight. He had lost two in a row to Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva. He was 37 years old. The word "former" was an overriding adjective in any champion mentions; people began speaking about him in the past tense.
He knows how quickly legacies can unravel. As well as how quickly they can be repaired.
Since that time, he has won six of seven fights and was close to finishing the lone dissenter, Jake Shields. He has lifted the Strikeforce heavyweight title since then. And that's one of the reasons that, moments after beating Emelianenko in a fight that exceeded even the wildest expectations, the now 40-year-old told whoever would listen that he hoped it wouldn't be the Russian's last fight. He wasn't without empathy. He wasn't above a rematch. And he remains a fan.
Granted -- it's a steeper climb out of the hole, having lost three in a row, but Fedor is three years younger than Henderson was in his predicament. He came to fight and busted up Hendo's mug more than anybody has since Rich Franklin -- in fact, he opened up the nose that Franklin busted. Henderson rarely bleeds. And that wasn't what Henderson anticipated.
"No actually, I didn't anticipate that at all," he said. "I was anticipating a three-round decision. Both of us are tough guys. Both of us are tough to knock out. I wasn't going to get submitted by him, and I typically don't submit guys. I wanted to try and win each round. I wanted to try and hurt him. I wanted to wear him out the first round, make him carry my weight around a little bit; make him flurry.
"But he came out swinging right from the get go, and caught me off guard. And he left me no choice but to swing back I guess. He definitely came out to fight."
And of all the people who could possibly console Emelianenko after suffering his third loss, with just about everyone signaling his end and speaking about his career in bygone tenses, it was the man who handed him that loss who had give him encouragement.
"I've admired Fedor as a fighter, he's very dangerous," Henderson said. "It means a lot more to me than some of the other victories I've had, personally. I'm still a fan of his, and I hope he continues to fight."
Spoken from experience.
Chuck Mindenhall covers MMA for ESPN.com and is a features writer at FIGHT! magazine. He can be followed on Twitter at @ChuckMindenhall.