White: Hendo-Rua one of best ever

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In the fast-moving world of mixed martial arts, rarely does the discussion following a fight center solely around the fight itself.

Immediately following a UFC event, everybody wants to know what the win or loss means to both men. Who are they fighting next? Will they get cut? Do they have a title run in them?

Although those questions certainly surfaced Saturday night following Dan Henderson's unanimous decision win over Mauricio Rua, for once they weren't the focus.

The focus was, instead, how incredible a night of fights it was.

"People who have been watching this sport a long time appreciate what [Henderson and Rua] did in there tonight," said UFC president Dana White.

"To dig down deep in a five-round fight -- that was our [Muhammad] Ali-[Joe] Frazier III. It was incredible."

For those who missed it -- and assuredly there are many, as the card came sandwiched right in the middle of two of the busiest months in UFC history -- it was an epic affair.

Henderson (29-8) seized control in the opening minute, landing a short right hand that dropped Rua (20-6) to his knees. Not only did Rua recover, he knocked Henderson down shortly after, resulting in a round that could have been scored for either fighter.

It only got better from there. In the third round, Henderson landed another right hand that knocked Rua down. On his way down, Rua's arms flailed limply to his sides, a universal sign a fighter has been knocked unconscious.

Referee Josh Rosenthal allowed the fight to continue, though, as Rua just barely managed to cling to a tiring Henderson's leg and eventually work to his feet.

After that exchange, it appeared Rua could not see out of his badly swollen right eye. Henderson, exhausted, struggled to stand. Both were helped to their feet by cornermen prior to the fourth round.

At the postfight news conference, which was attended by neither main event fighter, White said the fight had to be in the "top three" fights in MMA history. He refrained from calling it the best ever only because he didn't want an onslaught of fans and media questioning the statement.

He did say the fight eclipsed the 2005 fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, which is considered heavily responsible for bringing the sport into the mainstream.

"Bonnar-Griffin is an amazing fight and important for us at the time," White said. "If this was the WWE, we couldn't have scripted it any better than the way it went for us that night.

"But when you look at the level these two are at and what was on the line, going five rounds and the way it went -- it was one of the sickest fights I've ever seen. Ever."

The win propels Henderson into title contention at either middleweight or light heavyweight. A potential matchup against either Anderson Silva or Jon Jones would each carry historic significance and marketing value.

According to White, the decision of which division Henderson competes at could come down to something as simple as which opportunity comes first. Light heavyweight champion Jones fights Lyoto Machida in December and Rashad Evans is waiting patiently for the next shot. Middleweight king Silva is scheduled to meet Chael Sonnen in 2012.

Which fight Henderson gets and his chances of winning it will be heavily discussed soon enough. But for now, let's let the focus be on Nov. 19 -- possibly the greatest fight ever.

"Those are the types of fights that create legacy," Rua said.

Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.