UFC 173 featured another sign among many over the last 18 months that Dan Henderson should retire from MMA competition.
At UFC 173, Henderson was manhandled by Daniel Cormier and eventually passed out rather than submitting when Cormier had him in a rear-naked choke late in the bout’s final round.
The career of arguably the best American MMA fighter in the history of the sport has gone downhill since a knee injury prevented him from fighting Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title in September 2012. Since then, Henderson has gone 1-4 with each loss has been worse than the previous one.
I do believe it’s time for Henderson to hang up his gloves, but it’s not up to me or anybody else that shares this opinion. It’s not even up to those who train with Henderson or are his family and closest friends. When Dan Henderson will retire is up to one man: Dan Henderson.
This is a simple fact that few people who watch or follow the fight game understand: you can’t tell a fighter his time is up, the fighter has to figure this out through experience in the ring or cage. Why would a fighter listen to someone who isn’t fighting, even if it’s his own trainer or family, when they say he shouldn’t fight anymore?
This isn’t confined to the fight game as legendary athletes in all other sports have gone through the same end to their careers.
Some might point out that the bout with Cormier this past Saturday was Henderson’s first in a long time without the use of TRT and Henderson is lost without it. However, Henderson didn’t seem that different during his bout with Cormier than he did against Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans last year when his movement was noticeably slower and he wasn’t able to land the amount of punches and other strikes than in previous bouts.
More worrisome for Henderson should be the pounding he took in the first two rounds against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua a little over two months ago and getting knocked out cold against Vitor Belfort last November.
It’s one thing for a fighter to get schooled on the mat or for movement to slow down as they get into their 40′s, but it’s entirely different for a fighter to continue to test their chin as they get into their 40′s.
Henderson’s chin still seems to be in great condition despite getting KO’d by Belfort as Rua wasn’t able to finish the job when he had opportunities to do so in each of the first two rounds against Henderson, and was then TKO’d by Henderson in round three.
The problem with those that want Henderson to call it quits is that as long as a fighter can rationalize continuing to fight, that fighter will continue to fight.
Since Henderson’s chin can still withstand punishment, he will believe he can continue to fight.
Since Henderson weighed in six pounds under the light heavyweight limit for the bout with Cormier, he could rationalize it as a sign to move back down to middleweight for the final stretch of his long career.
There are plenty of reasons any fighter can use to rationalize continuing to fight. The sad truth is that all fighters have to be beaten into retirement.
Once a fighter is beaten badly enough in enough bouts, they know it’s time to call it a career. Dan Henderson simply isn’t there yet.
Henderson’s loss to Cormier was the second bout out of six in a new contract he signed with UFC this January. That in itself shows that Henderson isn’t mentally close to retirement yet.
Henderson’s new contract also offered another example of how long fighters can prolong their careers as long as a promoter wants to see them fight, if they can get licensed by state athletic commissions to fight, if people will still pay to see them fight, and if they can get fights elsewhere. Even if Henderson couldn’t get licensed to fight in America, he’s still a big name in Brazil and a legend in Japan, not to mention that One FC would sign him in a heartbeat if they could.
I think if people want to get up in arms about an MMA legend desperately needing to retire, they might want to focus that energy toward Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira more than Dan Henderson at this time.