It’s taken him nearly 15 years and 40 fights, but Dan Henderson has finally reached a perfect place in mixed martial arts -- one where he can do almost anything he wants.
After watching him edge Mauricio Rua in their five-round masterpiece on Saturday at UFC 139, company president Dana White sounded ready to sign Henderson up for title fights in two different weight divisions. With apologies to guys like Rashad Evans and Mark Munoz, Hendo seems a shoe-in to cut the line for a shot at Jon Jones’ light heavyweight gold and a rematch against middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva is equally within his grasp.
As with all things in the UFC, the schedule will rule, but from here out the 41-year-old Henderson can pretty much write his own ticket.
“I’m just saying that the guy’s so talented that he could do both, he can fight in both weight classes,” White said. “I’m sure it would be a matter of timing. I’m sure with him, it would be whichever [fight] he could get first.”
What happens next is all conjecture, of course. Any number of factors -- injury, contract disputes, hordes of locusts -- could hasten or delay either matchup in ways we can’t yet imagine. If sheer timing is the key, however, the immediate 205-pound calendar appears to set up best for Henderson.
With Jones defending his title against Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 on Dec. 10, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ could find himself taking on the winner in the spring. Henderson’s wrestling prowess and one-punch knockout power makes him an interesting opponent for either guy, though he’d certainly have to come to the cage with a little more gas in the tank than he had against Shogun. Especially if it turns out he is to fight Jones.
Meanwhile, Silva’s datebook remains a bit more uncertain, as the 185-pound champ continues to recuperate from shoulder surgery. Despite a few recent reports to the contrary, we think he’s still headed toward a rematch with Chael Sonnen, possibly in June at that 100,000-seat mega-stadium in Sao Paolo, Brazil we keep hearing about. If that holds true, the soonest Hendo could fight for the middleweight crown might be late 2012.
The great thing about a Hendo-Silva fight though is that it remains marketable no matter what happens in the interim. Even if Hendo should lose to the Jones-Machida winner or Silva drops the strap to Sonnen, their bout would still be just as compelling. It might even be better if the UFC could think of a way to promote it without putting the middleweight title on the line, since Henderson has already said he won’t stick around at 185-pounds afterward.
Long story short: Henderson has options. At this late stage in his career he’s managed to build himself into one the sport’s hottest and most versatile commodities. The only limiting factor is his age, but until the clock runs out on him it seems he’s earned the right to decide his own fate.