Henderson looking for final shot at UFC title

May, 22, 2014
May 22
3:48
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- The average age of the current UFC champions is 27 years, 10 months. Dan Henderson, who wants one final crack at a UFC belt, will turn 44 in August.

Those numbers aren't promising, but they could be worse. He could be turning 45.

Henderson (30-11) is considered one of the best mixed martial artists of all time -- a distinction that will remain in place regardless of what happens Saturday, when he faces undefeated light heavyweight Daniel Cormier at UFC 173 in Las Vegas.

The big knock on Henderson going into this fight is attached to his age. He's simply too old, man. Not too old to still win a fight here and there, but certainly too old to mix it up with Cormier, who is eight years younger. This can't end well for him.

Things didn't end well for him in November, when he was lifted off his feet by a left hook from Vitor Belfort and finished moments later with a head kick. He rebounded from the loss with a comeback TKO win over Mauricio Rua in March, but was nearly knocked out again in the first two rounds of that fight.

It's the lasting images of those two fights that seem to have many concerned about Henderson's health this weekend. For his part, Henderson says, that's fighting.

"There has been a few fights where that has happened to me," Henderson told ESPN.com. "Obviously, not quite as bad as the Vitor fight but real similar, where I got rocked and had to recover and ended up winning the fight. It wasn't anything new.

"Having it happen back-to-back in big settings where everybody is watching, I think that's why people are talking about it. Am I as quick as I used to be? Probably not. But I don't know. It's hard for me to tell. I don't feel old."

It seems incredible to think that Henderson began fighting professionally in 1997, first fought for the UFC in 1998, has won 30 fights during that time but never won a UFC title. It truly is the last empty space on his MMA bingo card.

And whether he feels old or not, Henderson acknowledges this could be his final run at that achievement. He says he won't lose sleep (at least not "too much sleep") if it never happens, but it'd be icing on the cake. And who eats cake without icing?

"I won't ever say 'never,' but, you know, there's not too many opportunities left for me to get that title belt," Henderson said.

UFC president Dana White has said the winner of Saturday's fight will be next in line to challenge for the 205-pound title.

[+] EnlargeDan Henderson
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comAt 43, Dan Henderson isn't shaken by the long odds against him on Saturday against Daniel Cormier at UFC 173.
A former champion in Pride and Strikeforce, Henderson has flirted with the UFC belt on several occasions, but never brought it home. He lost to Quinton Jackson in a light heavyweight title bout in September 2007, a fight he'd take back if he could.

Henderson had fought almost exclusively in a ring before that title fight and says he didn't acclimate himself enough to the cage beforehand. Six months later, he lost to Anderson Silva via submission in a bid for the UFC's middleweight title.

The one that might hurt the most, though, is UFC 151 in September 2012. Henderson was scheduled to fight Jon Jones in the main event of that card, but withdrew with a knee injury. He lost a non-title bout to Lyoto Machida in his return.

The Jones matchup was one Henderson badly wanted, as he bluntly stated ahead of the fight that Jones, 25 at the time, would only get better with age. Although he still believes he can beat Jones now, he's not as ripe for the picking as he was in 2012.

"I said that three or four years ago, that here is a guy who lacks experience and I'd rather fight him now rather than later," Henderson said. "I think he got offended when I said it, but it was absolutely true.

"He became champ at a young age with not many fights. I would have liked to fight him then, but it is what it is. I still think I can beat him."

To prove it, Henderson will have to find a way to beat an opponent who is a 9-1 favorite over him this weekend. To Henderson, those odds are just numbers. They mean little. Just like the number 43.

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