For the fifth time in his storied, 14-year trek through MMA’s upper echelon, Dan Henderson is preparing to change employers on the heels of arguably the biggest win of his career.
If reports prove accurate that Henderson is finally on the verge of ditching Strikeforce this week, inking a new four-fight deal with the UFC and heading for a meeting with Mauricio Rua at UFC 139, it’ll just mean the next, fitting step in what is becoming a fairly noticeable pattern for the nomadic superstar.
Perhaps he’s merely a victim of circumstance, but it’s starting to feel like Hendo actually prefers a transient lifestyle. Been there, done that -- or maybe On to the next one, if we’re trying to skew a little younger on behalf of the 41-year-old -- has essentially been his unofficial motto for more than a decade now.
In 1998, in the immediate wake of winning the UFC 17 middleweight tournament by defeating future welterweight champ Carlos Newton during his fourth career fight and first night of work for the company, Henderson decamped for the Japan-based Rings organization. A year later, he won Rings’ King of Kings tournament by taking out Gilbert Yvel, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Renato “Babalu” Sobral -- all in one night. It was a big victory for him in the three-event, 32-man tournament that included an impressive roster of the day's big names. He celebrated by splitting for Pride.
From here, things should sound more familiar: Pride was Hendo’s home for seven years -- far and away his longest tenure in any one spot -- and he capped his run there by KO-ing 205-pound champion Wanderlei Silva in the promotion’s second-to-last show to become the first man to simultaneously hold two major titles in different weight classes. Seven months down the road, when Zuffa bought Pride and the once-mighty federation was folded into the UFC, Henderson went with it.
After two years and four more up-and-down appearances in the Octagon, the climax of Hendo’s second run with the UFC was his vicious beatdown of Michael Bisping at the gala UFC 100 show, undoubtedly the most memorable performance at the company’s biggest-selling PPV ever. Unfortunately, it was also the last fight on his UFC contract. After being unable to find common ground with the organization on a new deal, he instead signed with Strikeforce, where he won the light heavyweight title by knocking out Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in March of this year and then further cemented his spot in history by doing the same to a slumping Fedor Emelianenko in July.
And ... repeat. The end of his Strikeforce deal now begets his third tour of duty in the UFC, one rife with fresh challenges and a new/old boss signing the checks.
Conventional wisdom might lead you to assume so many short-lived stops are the mark of either a very shrewd or a very bad businessman. With Hendo, however, I’m betting it’s somewhat less calculated than all that. For what it’s worth, he actually recently said he wanted to keep his Strikeforce belt, to jump back and forth between SF and the UFC while defending the smaller organization’s title. Unsurprisingly, however, the UFC isn't likely to share him at this point.
The bad news -- and this is a special word of warning to you gamblers, as Henderson prepares to meet Rua on Nov. 19 -- is that last three times he’s hopped promotions on the heels of a big win, Hendo has lost his first fight in his new home. The good news for Henderson fans is that he now looks to finish his near-legendary career on the sport’s biggest stage. He just needs to sit still long enough to do it.